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May 21, 2007


Hans Bader

I am skeptical about the Food Stamp Challenge, because I have lived on less than most food stamp recipients, without any ill-effect.

It is possible to eat well on a food-stamps budget, by using coupons, taking advantage of sales, and avoiding junk foods and expensive processed foods.

I have often spent far less on food than food stamp recipients do, and many people who receive food stamps are not that poor.

Many recipients of food stamps often spend money in ways that a truly needy person would not.

New York Governor Mario Cuomo depicted America as a Tale of Two Cities, one rich and one poor. Liberal Democrats often claim that America is less socially egalitarian than Socialist Europe.

But in reality, the poor in America are quite well-to-do compared to poor people in my wife’s native France. They are vastly more likely to own their own homes (nearly half of all Americans below the poverty line own their own home). Moreover, most Americans below the poverty line have the same sort of appliances as the rich, such as color TVs, VCRs, and stereos (which poor French households often lack).

My wife spent part of her childhood in southern France without having a bed to call her own. Such a thing would be unthinkable for most poor households in the United States.

In 1994-95, as a judicial law clerk, I spent less than $21 a week on groceries (it was around $15 a week in groceries).

I subsisted heavily on baked potatoes, milk, and 6-ounce cans of tuna (I bought 500 such tuna cans while they were on sale for 20 cents each, and filled the back of my car with them).

By contrast, the food stamp users at the grocery stores near me don't seem to be terribly careful about money.

Food stamp users in the stores I patronize seldom use coupons, as you would expect from somone who is very short on cash.

(You can get coupons not only in daily newspapers that cost money, but also in many free newspapers, such as the Hispanic newspapers).

The few that do don't seem to use coupons in ways that maximize their value (like shopping on triple-coupon days).

Nor do they use rain checks to minimize costs.

Moreover, most food stamp users seem to be fatter than I am. While I buy cheap, healthy, quick-to-prepare potatoes and sweet potatoes for baking in the microwave, they buy more expensive, fattier processed foods, that take more time and energy to cook.

Note that half of all households that have a cash income below the poverty line own their own home, and for those that do, typically, their home has three bedrooms.

(People who live in low-living cost rural areas can be below the federal poverty line, even if they live well, because their living costs are even lower than their income, and the means-tested government welfare benefits that they receive are typically not included in income when calculating whether they are below the poverty line, especially if the welfare benefit is not in cash).

By contrast, I live in a very expensive region with high housing costs. As a result, my home has only two bedrooms, which I share with my wife and daughter (and until recently, my mother-in-law).

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