Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, one of Hollywood’s more prominent lifestyle gurus, made headlines last week for taking celebrity chef Mario Batali’s “Food Stamp Challenge” (and failing) sponsored by the Food Bank for New York City.
Participants are asked to buy groceries for a week as if they were on food stamps in an effort to show Washington, D.C. how tough it is for impoverished Americans to live on government services.
Paltrow tweeted to her more than 2.1 million followers a picture of “what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week.”
This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week. pic.twitter.com/OZMPA3nxij
— Gwyneth Paltrow (@GwynethPaltrow) April 9, 2015
Paltrow’s tweet was shared more than 2,000 times and was featured by countless news, opinion, and celebrity sites, most of which applauded her for her efforts.
This would all be a fantastic story of the power celebrities can have to create change, but there’s a big problem standing in the way: Paltrow’s message is completely and utterly untrue.
For starters, food stamp recipients are not asked to live on $29 per week; the maximum benefits allotted for a single person alone is about $45 per seven days, according to New York’s own Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Paltrow’s $29 per week figure is based on what the Food Bank for New York City says is the “average” amount a food stamp recipient receives. The reason the average is lower than the maximum allowable benefit, however, isn’t due to some absurd policy by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The difference is the result of the fact that recipients with some income, including income from other social programs, receive slightly less than those who are not receiving any income at all.
Second, Paltrow’s food choices are completely ridiculous. Based on the picture she posted on Twitter, Paltrow bought a carton of eggs, an onion, a tomato, green onions, lettuce, one avocado, a jalapeno pepper, one yam, one ear of corn, kale, black beans, brown rice, dried peas, fresh garlic, cilantro, tortillas, and seven limes. Yup, SEVEN limes.
With those food choices, Paltrow is right the average American would have trouble living comfortably. But what fool would actually purchase the items Paltrow bought if all he or she had was $29, which again, isn’t even an accurate figure. All Paltrow’s stunt proves is that she is completely and totally out of touch with what it’s like to live like 99 percent of the country.
So, in an effort to find out what it’s truly like to live on food stamps, I went to my local Chicago-area grocery store with a strict $45 budget, and here’s what I came up with:
— Justin T. Haskins (@JustinTHaskins) April 16, 2015
As you can see, with just $45 I was able to purchase two containers of blackberries, whole wheat English muffins, yogurt, veggie pasta, pasta sauce, milk, eggs, cereal, four avocados, hot dogs, hot dog buns, a block of cheddar cheese, Kashi breakfast bars, a very large container of chicken, and celery. While this may not be as much food as I would have liked, it is certainly enough to get by comfortably for one week.
Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Paltrow’s good-hearted intentions are admirable. She clearly wants to help people, and no one should be insulted for trying to help the impoverished. But if you’re going to take a political stance, Gwyneth, you should probably look into the facts first.
It’s simply not true food stamps only provide $29 for “families on SNAP.” A family of four is actually eligible to receive as much as $150.00 per seven days for purchasing food. While this means a family relying on SNAP will probably not be eating steak and lobster every night, it’s more than enough for a family to get by until parents or guardians can find employment.
Study after study shows, including the newly published 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card released in March by The Heartland Institute, that if lawmakers are actually interested in reducing poverty, reforming welfare is one of the best ways to do it—and it doesn’t involve spending more money on increased benefits.
By establishing cash diversion programs, decreasing the time limits for receiving welfare, putting firm sanctions in place, creating work requirements for recipients, and integrating government services, millions of people could be rescued from poverty and the grips of government services.
The goal of programs like welfare and SNAP should be to move people out of poverty, not make them more comfortable in it. Let’s stop with all the Hollywood-induced rhetoric and start focusing on real solutions.
Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is the editor of The Heartland Institute, a leading free-market think tank headquartered in Chicago and the editor-in-chief of the New Revere Daily Press. Opinions are his own.