Cory Booker's Food Stamp Falsehoods

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who once appeared to be a different kind of leftist politician, is instead demonstrating that there really is no such thing as a different kind of leftist politician — at least when ambition takes over.

That’s too bad. In May, his fellow Democrats, especially including President Barack Obama, made the savaging of GOP challenger Mitt Romney’s successful career heading up private equity firm Bain Capital a centerpiece of their campaign strategy. At first, Booker pointedly rejected the critique, observing: “I live in a state where pension funds, unions, and other people invest in companies like Bain Capital … they’ve done a lot to support businesses [and] to grow businesses.”

But in the first sign that his aspirations reach far beyond New Jersey’s largest city and that he won’t let little things like his own personal convictions and proven facts intervene, Booker backed away from his remarks in the face of withering criticism, saying that it was “reasonable” for the Obama campaign to go after Romney’s business record. In practical terms, this meant that Cory was copasetic with Obama, his surrogates, and fellow party members lying shamelessly about that record to win an election.

Booker’s latest stunt, one which has enabled him to gain nearly instant national prominence, is his participation in the bogus “Food Stamp Challenge.”

To be clear, such challenges, if properly designed, could be worthwhile exercises, potentially serving as vehicles for helping financially strapped Americans make wiser, more nutritious, and thriftier food choices. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what the Food Stamp Challenge is about. Instead, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) promotes it to “help raise awareness of hunger in your community and the need to keep SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s official name for food stamps) strong.” That translates in real life to “doing everything we can to keep food stamp benefits on their current expansionary, budget-busting path.” Proof that my assessment is correct is found in FRAC’s most recent research paper, which sets out to convince America, the worldwide leader in obesity, that the USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan” framework for determining benefits, which has been in place for decades, is woefully inadequate and that the government should therefore increase monthly food stamp benefits for a family of four by over 30%, or almost $200.

FRAC’s Food Stamp Challenge is supposed to prove “how difficult it is living on the average daily food stamp benefit” of “about $4 per person per day.” Booker used just under $30 as his full-week financial constraint, and predictably concluded his endeavor by calling for a “just and sustainable food system.”

The Stanford- and Yale-educated Booker should know that the most just and sustainable food system ever devised goes by the name of “Walmart.”

By totally revamping how groceries are distributed, sold, and tracked, forcing its competitors to imitate them or die, and constantly pushing the low-price envelope, the company has saved and continues to save American families untold billions of after-tax dollars. Except in places like Newark, where self-appointed social activists are determined to prevent its appearance.

Both FRAC and Booker conveniently ignore what the “S” in “SNAP” stands for: “Supplemental.” The USDA’s “Fact Sheet on Resources, Income, and Benefits” clearly explains why challenge participants limiting themselves to $28-$30 a week are being disingenuous:

The amount of benefits the household gets is called an allotment. The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household’s allotment. This is because SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.

As has been the case for the five-plus years I’ve been following the challenge, FRAC and other leftist advocates have deliberately ignored how the food stamp program really works. The following shows how much a household with no other available resources will receive in monthly benefits during the current fiscal year (converted to weekly by yours truly for comparative purposes), and what those levels were six years ago:


Note that Maximum Monthly Allotments have increased by 29% in six years. During that time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food costs have risen roughly 20%.

The mayor’s “challenge” obviously should have been how to get by on $46.03 a week. That’s easy, especially for a vegetarian like Booker:

  • Seven 15-ounce cans of various generic or store-brand vegetables should cost no more than about 80¢ each, for a total of $6 (rounded). Each can supposedly has 3.5 servings, but since Booker is an ex-football player, I’ll assume that each can will only last him two meals. That’s 14 meals, or enough for a full week of lunches and dinners.
  • Seven 15-ounce or 20-ounce cans of generic or store-brand fruits averaging $1.25 each will cost $9 (rounded). That’s also enough for all required lunches and dinners.
  • A gallon of milk and a gallon of orange juice come in at a combined $7 or so, enough to provide a 12-ounce serving of one or the other for all 21 weekly meals.

That leaves $24, which is surely enough to provide for all breakfasts and anything else Booker wants to add to his lunches and dinners, including more generous servings of fruits and vegetables. Meat-eaters could spend about $7 for seven cans (14 servings) of heat-and-eat canned pasta and still have $17 left for all breakfasts.

Astute shoppers certainly recognize that my individual cost figures are far higher than one will pay if they shop aggressively. Additionally, I didn’t even look at substituting often cheaper fresh fruits and vegetables or at purchasing in bulk. I daresay that frugal Walmart shoppers could easily feed themselves adequately in most parts of the country on less than $35 a week, and far less than $200 a month.

If FRAC and others have specific problems with how the formulas reducing the Maximum Monthly Allotments work, they should tell us what they are. But they won’t.

Instead, they want to make sure that everyone knows which states don’t even have an asset test any more — a loophole which allowed an Ohio couple with $80,000 in the bank and a paid-off house to collect benefits in 2009 — and which ones have stretched the program’s gross income test to up to 200% of the federal poverty level. Loosened program eligibility rules large explain why food stamp program participation continues to grow — up by over 870,000 participants in August and September alone — even as the still too high unemployment rate has been dropping. And of course, advocates fail to account for the fact that millions of households enrolled in the food stamp program have kids who double up on meal coverage by receiving free school breakfasts and lunches.

Cory Booker’s opportunistic Food Stamp Challenge participation was all about positioning himself to seek higher office, either as the Garden State’s next governor or U.S. senator. It’s not unreasonable to believe that he has eyes on eventually seeking the presidency. The last thing the country needs is yet another unprincipled liberal wolf in moderate sheep’s clothing in the White House.