Saturday, July 21, 2007

Food Stamps: Forget $1/meal, try 18 cents

Earlier this spring, we saw many well-publicized efforts by Congresspeople and other public figures to eat, for one week, on average food stamp benefits. The average benefit is $21/week, or-- as many pointed out-- $1/meal. Some blogged their experience, and the results are definitely worth reading. Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-CA) and others' can be found here. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)'s is here. More can be accessed via the first link in this post.

Nevertheless, for many individuals-- mostly elderly and disabled singles-- the benefit is much, much lower. Currently, $10 per month. That's been the minimum benefit since 1977, and about 10% of food stamp households receive it. $10 a month. That's about 11 cents per meal.

So, the people who receive such piddly benefits aren't really poor, right? Not according to this fact sheet from the Food Research and Action Center. In fact, the majority of households receiving the minimum benefit have incomes below the poverty level.

Furthermore, many eligible households don't bother even applying, given that the reward for all that bureaucratic hassle is so small. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says:

"Fewer than one-third of households with seniors who are eligible for food stamps receive them, according to USDA estimates. Groups that work with senior citizens report that many seniors believe they will receive only $10 a month and that the small benefit is not worth the hassle (often including trips to, and long waits at, food stamp offices) and paperwork of applying for and maintaining food stamp benefits."
30 years ago, $10 bought about three times as much, grocery-wise, as it does now. The value of the minimum benefit has plummeted, and most parties agreed it was time for an update. Enter the 2007 Farm Bill. High hopes.

Well, the marked-up bill that came out of the House Agriculture Committee yesterday did raise the minimum benefit. Hooray! Instead of 10 dollars, the minimum benefit is now 10 percent of the maximum benefit for a household of one... and the maximum benefit gets adjusted, over time, to inflation. Here’s a .pdf of the en bloc amendment containing the minimum benefit increase (the relevant bit is on page 9).

Good news, yes? Well, yes. Unfortunately, the new formula only yields a minimum benefit of, now, 16 dollars per month for 2008. Still only half, in real terms, of what it was in 1977. Still only 18 cents a meal. Is this good enough? I don't think so.

The Farm Bill goes to the House floor Thursday, and amendments have to be submitted by Tuesday evening. If anyone knows of a planned amendment that would further raise the minimum benefit, please post that information.

If I had to, I could probably figure out a way to eat for $1/meal. Not $0.18, though. Could you?


Anonymous said...

OK, here is my attempt at living on $16.00/month for food.
Note: This is obviously a bland diet, but in reality, most people would contribute at least a few dollars/month to their food budget.

$3.00 - 8 pounds brown rice
$3.00 - 8 pounds kidney beans
$1.50 - 28 ounces vegetable oil
$1.25 - 5 pounds flour
$0.25 - 1 can of salt
$3.00 - 6 (12 ounce/each) cans orange juice concentrate (with calcium)-makes 36 cups
$2.00 - 4 pounds carrots
$2.00 - 40 ounces oats

total cost = 16.00
provides 1,656 Kcal/day and 30 days of food.

I know the Kcal/day is low, but
a 65 year old female that is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 140 lbs (giving a BMI = 25) and is lightly active only needs 1608 Kcal/day.
I used a senior citizen for my calculations, since that was the focus of the original post.

myothereviltwin said...

hi anonymous,
is today by any chance the day you turn 65? If so, good use of the word "post." :)

Putting aside the-- er-- minimalism of this diet (what's the flour for? Is one to eat it plain?), I'm wondering about your prices. I don't know about you, but at my supermarket, a can of oj (the cheap kind) costs $1.29, and I've never seen a can of salt for .25...

myothereviltwin said...

whoops, anonymous, my mistake,
but from the specs (65, wt/ht, etc.), I thought for sure you were my mother. :) She says not.