May 22, 2007

The Bogus ‘Food Stamp Challenge’ Spreads; Gullible Media and The Left Eat It Up

It has been over three weeks since the fundamental claim of the “Food Stamp Challenge” was debunked, first by Mona Charen in her syndicated column, then in more detail by yours truly (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog). Yet the “Food Stamp Challenge” has spread.

As noted in this NPR report from April 23, it all started in Oregon. That state’s governor, Ted Kulongoski, joined in and put on quite a show, getting plenty of Old Media attention (Associated Press; New York Times [may require free registration]) as he tried to buy a week’s worth of groceries with $21, because that was said to be what “the state’s average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries.”

The Challenge’s claim that the average Food Stamp recipient’s benefit of $21 per person per week is all that beneficiaries have available for purchasing food is incorrect, as anyone visiting the USDA’s web site could have learned very easily.

As I noted in late April, the Food Stamp Program’s “Fact Sheet on Resources, Income and Benefits” provides a table of “Maximum Monthly Allotments” (i.e., benefits), and says the following about benefit levels (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):

Food Stamps

The average Allotment/benefit of $21 per person per week (assuming that this figure is indeed correct) is less than the amounts in the table because the program is means tested, as the USDA also clearly states on the same page (bold is mine):

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.

If (according to formulas that are too complicated to go into here) a household has the resources to pay part of that $27 – $36, that household doesn’t get the entire amount of the potential benefit. The overhyped $21 amount is therefore definitely NOT what an average food stamp recipient has available to spend 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.

Despite the clearly bogus $21 constraint, the “Food Stamp Challenge” has spread. It has been taken up by at least four congresspersons, and eaten up with fawning approval by The Washington Post, McJoan (with 351 unskeptical comments at last count) at Daily Kos, and Andrea Seabrook at NPR in Washington.

To Seabrook’s credit, she at least noted that $21 per person per week (“$1 per meal”) is not what Food Stamp recipients are expected to spend on food. But she never got to the size of the differences, and let Illinois’ Jan Schakowsky, the congressperson she was accompanying, complain about how Food Stamps don’t pay for non-food items like toilet paper (uh, they’re FOOD stamps), and how “36 million Americans have a hard time feeding themselves” (Seabrook did note later that the Food Stamp Program has 25 million recipients). And the web page for Seabrook’s report is misleadingly titled “House Members Eat at Food-Stamp Level for a Week.”

For those who believe that some of the states involved might have higher or lower benefits, I have verified that the table above reflects Allotment/benefit levels in Oregon (at previous post), Illinois (at the site of Illinois Pro Bono) and Ohio (a page from the state’s web site converted to HTML; amounts are at the end).

Whether or not the Allotment/benefit levels are adequate is a legitimate subject. But as I noted last month:

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.

NixGuy properly assigns the blame for why the false claim that the average Food Stamp recipient has “$21 to make it through the whole week” (a direct quote from one of the earlier Oregon participants) has acquired near urban-legend status:

At this point, (Old Media has) ….. crossed the line from dumb ignorance to willful propaganda. There is no excuse…..

….. The problem ….. is that we have a willing and complicit media which will not hesitate to reprint a politician’s press release without even a hint of background research or attempt at finding an opposing view. Because even the barest amount of research would have put the lie to this sham.

Hey, but their intentions are good right?!

It also should be noted that Ohio Congressman and “Challenge” participant Tim Ryan should have been tipped off to the means-testing problem by a commenter at his Day 1 blog post where he (Ryan) chronicled his attempt to stay within $21 (third comment at post):

Congressman -

With all due respect, isn’t food stamps an assistance program that is not designed to be a person’s entire food budget? Shouldn’t those persons recieving food stamps also be contributing some of their own income?

But like Old Media, it appears that the Congressman didn’t want the facts to get in the way of a shameless, and bogus, publicity stunt.

Cross-posted at


UPDATE: Dean at Hugh Hewitt’s place gets in some Grade A choice cuts at Challenge participant and Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts

This Is Better Than Any Second Post I Could Hope to Put Up This Morning

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:07 am

The Ten Principles of Economics (HT Jules Crittenden):

Revealing Quote of the Day

Somebody forgot that he was looking at his “Who will be emitting the most in a few years?” list, instead of the one entitled “Who do we always make sure we beat up on in public?”:

“You need all major emitters to join in, including India, China and the United States,” said Japan’s chief climate negotiator, Mutsuyoshi Nishimura.


China’s emissions will exceed those of the US this year.

Though I could not find any direct reference, I would think that India is no more than a decade behind. India could move to Number 1 if it stays truer to capitalist principles than still-Communist China (i.e., if it prospers more).

It also appears, based on the bolded portion of the following excerpt, that India’s emissions have been under-tabulated:

19 per cent of India’s global warming emissions from large dams, says study

NEW DELHI: Latest scientific estimates show that large dams in India are responsible for about a fifth of the countries’ (sic; should be “country’s”) total global warming impact.

The estimates also reveal that Indian dams are the largest global warming contributors compared to all other nations.

….. The study estimates that emission of methane from all the reservoirs of the world could be around 120 mt per annum. This means that of the total global emissions of methane due to all human activities, contribution from large dams alone could be around 24 per cent. The study does not include the emission of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide from large dams. If all these were included, the global warming impact of large reservoirs would go up further.

The methane emission from India ‘s dams is estimated at 27.86 per cent of the methane emission from all the large dams of the world, which is more than the share of any other country of the world.

….. “It is unfortunate that Lima ‘s study has come too late to be included in the recent reports from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” said Patrick McCully, Director of the International Rivers Network.

Without a compelling reason, nobody should be telling countries with hundreds of millions of people in grinding poverty that they must stay that way, which is exactly what capping China’s and India’s emissions would do. And besides, until someone tells me why Fred Singer’s point about global satellite temperature readings is wrong, there’s no compelling reason to, because, absent refutation, it’s all, well, globaloney.

Positivity: Compassion fills a choir’s repertoire

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:57 am

From Santa Cruz, California:

Bedside singers soothe the sick and the dying

By Steve Schmidt
February 26, 2007

DAN TREVAN / Union-Tribune

SANTA CRUZ – An ardent band of women in the seaside city of Santa Cruz is on a heavenly mission – they sing for the dying.

They call themselves the Threshold Choir, and they perform at the bedsides of the terminally ill, singing in intimate tones, like a mother soothing a newborn.

“We think of these as lullabies for … on the way out,” said choir founder Kate Munger.

Munger, a minister’s daughter, started the singing group several years ago. Today, the Marin County woman oversees 35 Threshold Choirs in a dozen states.

They sing a cappella in homes, hospitals and hospices, at the request of the dying and their families.

The choir members believe singing calms the fear and pain at the end of life.

“I’ve been in a lot of choirs and I’ve done a lot of singing over the years, but there’s nothing like the power of this,” said Amrita Cottrell, with the Santa Cruz choir. “It brings people back to a place of tranquillity and healing.”

Go here for the rest of the story.