Saturday, January 11, 2014

Food Stamps and Math

Personal political views get in the way of clear thinking, undermining basic reasoning. A recent study found people who are otherwise good at math, flunk tests they’d otherwise pass because the right answers violate their political beliefs.
The debate over food stamps is an example. For low-income workers and the poor, being able to feed your children is nothing more than a simple math problem.
“The Week” magazine reports that a McDonalds website intended for their low-wage employees and called “McResources,” advises hungry employees to “break food into smaller pieces to feel more full.” But it’s not about smaller bites of food. It’s about the math.
The Census Bureau documents the costs for a couple with two children; 176 dollars per week for the “low-cost plan.” Multiplied by 52 weeks, divided by twelve months, that’s 762 dollars each month. Because of recent food stamp cuts this family of four saw a reduction to a monthly benefit of 632 dollars and local grocers lost millions. If members of congress get their way, an additional 40 billion will soon be cut.

Likewise qualifying for food stamps is a math problem. If you make under $2,000 and have a household of four or more, you qualify for benefits. Assuming one parent remains at home to care for the two children and the other works full-time for minimum wages, the family’s gross income falls far below the qualifying level.

The math demonstrates the food stamp program has more to do with low wages than the claim that “these people should get a job.”

There’s another math problem bearing on Wyoming families and food stamps. Wyoming has one of the highest divorce rates in the US. Therefore, we have one of the highest rates of single mothers raising young children. More than half of those families live below the poverty line. Nearly half of the recipients of food stamps are children.

Some worry about food stamp fraud. Anyone can troll for stories about abuses. But, the plural of “anecdotes” is not “data.” Exceptions aren’t the rule. Despite sensational anecdotes about misuse, the program’s accuracy rate is 95%. Grocers actually commit a large portion of the fraud. In the last decade, more than 8,300 retailers were disqualified to accept food stamps for fraudulently obtaining card numbers from beneficiaries and stealing the funds. 
Here’s some more math. Conservatives often claim social programs create an "entitlement society" by undermining the work ethic. That’s stereotypically untrue. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found 90 percent of benefit dollars assist elderly, the seriously disabled or members of working households – not able-bodied, working-age Americans choosing not to work.
Here’s another significant mathematical tidbit. The food stamp program isn’t only about helping the poor. In Wyoming communities, food stamps help local grocery stores stay profitable and provide jobs. Food stamp dollars are among the most successful expenditures in terms of economic stimulus, supporting jobs in the farming and retail.
Now add to the equation the efforts of Rep. Cynthia Lummis and others to cut billions from the food stamp program, multiplying the numbers of hungry kids in Wyoming.
Some folks say faith communities, not government, should feed the poor. That too presents math problems. The food stamp budget is $75 billion dollars. The 36 million recipients receive an average of $133 per month, about $1,596 per year; $1,596 x 36,000,000 = $57.5 billion per year, not including administrative costs.
America has 400,000 houses of worship. Their median size is 90. Feeding the poor would demand each feed 90 people.  The average faith community would take on as many poor people as it has in attendance! If each allocated $133 per month to feed each of those 90, the yearly cost would be $143,640 per church/mosque/temple, greatly exceeding the average budget of most.
But the responsibility for feeding the hungry is not simply a religious obligation to be put on the back of those attending worship services. It’s a math problem creating a moral obligation for every American.

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