The Rest Of The Story About Teddy's Food Stamps

One of the big stories that the Daily Dead Fish Wrapper has been beating to death this past week is Ted Kulongoski's pledge to live off of food stamps for a week in recognition of Hunger Awareness Week. According to Teddy's press release, $21 is the average amount that a person living off of food stamps receives per week.

Not only has the Fish Wrapper published multiple articles on the story, but so has the Associated Press.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — If Gov. Ted Kulongoski seems a little sluggish this week, he's got an excuse: he couldn't afford coffee.

In fact, the Democratic governor couldn't afford much of anything during a trip to a Salem-area grocery store on Tuesday, where he had exactly $21 to buy a week's worth of food — the same amount that the state's average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries.

Kulongoski is taking the weeklong challenge to raise awareness about the difficulty of feeding a family on a food stamp budget.

However, there is a big problem with the whole premise that a person lives on $21 per week on food stamps, as outlined by Todd Blumer at Newsbusters.

But there's a significant problem with the premise behind the governor's awareness campaign, and with the reporting by the AP's Julia Silverman -- a problem that could have been prevented with just a few minutes of research. You see, USDA's "food stamp budget" provides per-person per-week benefits to recipients with no other available resources that are 28%-70% higher than the $21 used in the article.

The Food Stamp Program's "Fact Sheet on Resources, Income and Benefits" provides a table of "Maximum Monthly Allotments" (bold is mine; I converted the Monthly Allotments to weekly allotments per person by dividing by the average number of weeks in a month [4.345], and then by the number of people), and says the following about benefit levels:


The amount of benefits the household gets is called an allotment. The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household's allotment. This is because food stamp households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.

The governor, in using $21 as his "budget," and the AP's Silverman, by describing that $21 as what "the state's average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries," are clearly misleading their public, and their readers, respectively, by ignoring the subtraction clearly described in the above paragraph.

If $21 is indeed the correct per-person per-week Food Stamp benefit in Oregon, the example that immediately follows the table at the linked Fact Sheet page makes it perfectly clear that the $21 is what remains AFTER a person or family on Food Stamps has contributed what the Program believes they can contribute towards buying food from their own resources (a fairly complex calculation that is beyond the scope of this post, except of course to note its existence). It is definitely NOT what "the state's average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries." The Program's table assumes that Food Stamp recipients will spend more, and it's reasonable to assume that many, if not most recipients, do indeed spend more.

Just to be sure that Oregon's Food Stamp program doesn't vary from the national norm, I verified that the Oregon DHS Food Stamp benefit calculator generates results consistent with USDA's table. I used a family of 4 with very little income, and expenses exceeding that income, thereby ensuring that such a family would have no other available resources to put towards buying food according to the Program's definitions. Bingo -- the estimated benefit was the same $518 for a family of 4 listed in the table above.

Now perhaps it's the case that USDA's allotments are inadequate, or that the deductions for available resources are unreasonable. But the allotments are closely in line with the "Thrifty Plan" version of the agency's most recent "Cost of Food at Home" report (link is to a page containing links to each month's report in PDF format), and it isn't unreasonable to expect recipients of government benefits to be thrifty. As to the available resource deductions, they were designed and mostly came about in 1996 as a part of a series of welfare reform laws passed by a Republican congress and signed by a Democratic president, and were seen as needed to curb the rampant fraud and abuse that was occurring at the time.

The bottom lines:

  • If a state governor is going to try a publicity stunt to "get the word out" about a cause he believes in, the least he can do is have his facts straight first. Governor Kulongoski could have picked up nine of those $1.53 Progressos he "pined wistfully for" without busting the program's assumed budget for his food needs (yes I know he's married with three grown children, but in his stunt was shopping as a single person), with 93 cents to spare.
  • As to reporters -- Rather than gullibly acting as the stunt director's -- er, governor's -- mouthpiece, it wouldn't hurt to spend a few minutes verifying some basic facts to avoid being misled ..... would it?

But this is the Fish Wrapper shilling for the Democrats again. Why would we expect anything less? As always, they don't like to let the facts get in the way of a good story.


Food stamps

Dis I miss something? You say a family of four gets $518 monthly. Dividing 518 by 4 and then by 30 gives me $4.31 per day. Where's the $21 and where's is your example better?

Food Stamps

I've never been on foodstamps. I've always worked my tail off to provide for my family. A little over two years ago, my husband was out of a job for about a year and during that time our weekly budget for groceries for the FIVE of us (including two teenage boys), which also included non-food items like cleaning supplies, light-bulbs toilet paper, etc was $100 and we weren't anywhere close to starving. It can be done, but you have to shop wisely, stay away from the convenience foods, and do a lot of cooking from scratch.

One thing I've done in the past when times were rough was join Gleaners. The program required that I pay a minimal fee (I think it was $5 per month) and volunteer a few hours a month. In exchange we got more food that we knew what to do with. The year I was in gleaners I received fresh fruits and vegetables by the case because nobody else would take it. I canned 90 pounds of tomatoes and 2 or 3 cases of green beans. I also put up four cases of pineapple. Most of the other people on the program considered it to be too much work to do the canning and freezing. Gee, I wonder why I'm now in a very successful career and they're still on assistance?

Great example

Wow, that's a really great example of how to take advantage of what resources are available to you and actually take responsibility for getting food for your family. Too bad the liberals don't have the guts to take responsibility for themselves instead of relying on the nanny state to provide everything for them.

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