NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 27, 2007

As part of Oregon Gov. Theodore Kulongoski's "Food Stamp Challenge" week, the governor is attempting to live on a food budget of $21 per week, which is about the average benefit for an Oregon food stamp recipient.  In a country as wealthy as ours, the idea that anyone should go hungry is unacceptable.  But is that what's really happening, asks columnist Mona Charen?

Let's start with some numbers:

  • If you go the state of Oregon's Web site and calculate your eligibility for food stamps, you will find that a family of four with no income (and 70 percent of food stamp recipients do not work at all) is entitled to $518 monthly or about $32 weekly for each person. 
  • This is a very rough estimate because all sorts of factors are taken into account in calculating eligibility, including number of dependents, housing costs, expenses and other income. 
  • Perhaps the governor's office is correct that the average food stamp allotment in the state is $21, but that means some get more and some less; eligibility is based on need.

Now even $32 seems like a very small amount of money per person, but that is only a small part of the largesse provided by the U.S. government, which spent $522 billion on low-income assistance programs in 2002, says Charen.  The figure excludes:

  • Hot breakfasts and lunches at school (which push high-calorie, high-fat diets on kids).
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit by which the working poor get cash back from the federal government ($41.4 billion went to 22.2 million recipients last year, according to the Los Angeles Times).
  • Housing subsidies, Medicaid or the Supplemental Security Income program, which can free up funds for food.
  • WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which provides highly caloric packages of juice, cereal, eggs and other food to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children up to the age of 4.

Source: Mona Charen, "Can You Live On Food Stamps?", April 27, 2007.


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