December 17, 2012

In Cory Booker Coverage, AP Continues Half-Decade Media Tradition of Misleading Reporting on the ‘Food Stamp Challenge’

Katie Zezima at the Associated Press is the latest in a long line of reporters sucked into the fundamental dishonesty of the “Food Stamp Challenges” which have been taking place around the country for more than five years.

Zezima’s misdirection came at the direction of Newark, New Jersey’s Democratic mayor Cory Booker, who challenged one of his Twitter followers several weeks ago to, in Zezima’s words, “try to live on the monetary equivalent of food stamps for at least a week” in connection with “a debate about the role the government should play in school nutrition funding.” Those two quoted characterizations expose the two main problems with the Food Stamp Challenge. I’ll explain both after excerpting a bit more of Zezima’s December 11 dispatch after the jump:

NJ mayor finishes week on food-stamp budget

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has stopped living on food stamps.

Booker ended his food stamp challenge Tuesday after spending a week living on $1.40 for each meal.

… “This was a difficult week for me. It was a modest brush with what the reality is for 100,000 of my residents who depend on the SNAP program,” Booker told reporters after a menorah lighting Tuesday at Newark City Hall.

Booker said he was often hungry and had to eat meals over the course of a few hours to stave off hunger. He also went through severe caffeine withdrawal, fighting headaches and sluggishness, because he didn’t buy coffee although food stamps can be used to purchase packaged coffee grounds.

A prolific Twitter user, Booker said he felt he accomplished his goal of starting a national conversation about food stamps, food policy, and hunger. He also kept a video diary of the week on LinkedIn. He said he was happy to see “dozens, if not hundreds,” of people participate.

But the Twitter follower, who accepted his challenge, was not pleased with the mayor. She told The Associated Press that he did not address her original concerns about school nutrition and “exposed his agenda,” which she described as unfriendly to struggling middle-class families who are not on food stamps.

“I expected no less from a politician that doesn’t care to fix problems,” she said in a Twitter message. “I’m more upset that people fall for his show.”

The 39-year-old woman, who lives in North Carolina and uses the Twitter handle (at)MWadeNC, spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because she said she has received threats.

It would appear that you can’t even challenge the status quo on food stamps without getting threats from knee-jerk statists any more.

People fell for Booker’s show even further than the North Carolina woman articulated.

First, $1.40 per meal is not “the monetary equivalent of food stamps” for a week, as the following chart shows:


$29.40 per week ($1.40 per week times 21 meanls) is the rough equivalent of the average per-person benefit distributed to single-person households after — emphasis, after — considering resourses that a person is expected to available to pay for food based in their available income and assets (except that the majority of states have dropped the asset test, which explains how a couple with $80,000 in the bank and a paid-off $300,000 home was able to obtain food stamp benefits in Warren County, Ohio in 2009.

It is not arguable that if Corey Booker had wanted to conduct an honest version of a food stamp challenge, he would have set a limit of $46.03. But he didn’t. That’s too bad, because staying within that amount would have been, well, a SNAP, as I demonstrated in a column published elsewhere this morning. Throughout the day, commenters at that column provided several examples of how one could easily stay within that limit, eat quite well, and have food stamps to spare.

The second problem is the fact that the household allotments for food stamps assume that no household members are receiving free or heavily subsidized food from anywhere else. But millions of families with chidren are doing just that, in the school lunch school breakfast programs. A family of four with two children getting free school lunches only has to worry about making their food stamp allotment plus their own resources getting the household through 74 meals in a week (21 meals times 4 people minus 10 lunches) instead of 84, and only 64 meals if the two kids receive free school breakfasts.

Cory Booker didn’t “start a national conversation about food stamps, food policy, and hunger.” He continued a dishonest 5-1/2 year campaign of deception. Shame on him, and shame on Katie Zezima for becoming yet another ignorant reporter to fall for the charade.

Cross-posted at


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