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?