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There’s not much variety in a food stamp diet. Just ask Rep. Marcia Fudge. She began Nov. 7, 2011, dining on less than $5 a day, a self-imposed restriction to raise awareness about poverty in America.
The congresswoman took what’s known as the Food Stamp Challenge. Her budget for one week’s worth of food came to $31.50, the average weekly benefit for an adult food stamp recipient in the United States.
Her menu included such delicacies as cabbage and kale (flavored with pork neck bones), rotisserie chicken for protein, bananas and potatoes.
Just prior to taking the challenge, Fudge championed the food stamp program,, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, with Al Sharpton on MSNBC.
Fudge and Sharpton both were critical of a House-passed bill drafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin which calls for cuts in the food stamp program. Fudge said she thought it would be tragic to reduce food aid to needy Americans in the name of balancing the budget.
"More than half of the people on food stamps today are children," Fudge told Sharpton.
PolitiFact Ohio decided to check Fudge’s claim.
But first, some background on Ryan’s budget. It calls for reducing the federal outlay for food stamps by an average of $12.7 billion over 10 years. The bill would shift funding for the program to block grants provided to the states, which would then administer the payouts.
Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert said his boss believes in the food stamp program but wants to make it more sustainable over time by changing the way it’s administered and by reducing budget increases going forward.
Enrollment in food stamps has grown from 17.3 million in 2001 to 44.3 million today, while funding has grown from less than $18 billion in 2001 to more than $80 billion today.
PolitiFact Ohio isn’t commenting on whether Ryan or Fudge have the best recipe for the food stamp program going forward. We check the data about food stamp recipients.
The United States Department of Agriculture administers the food stamp program, and according to its records, 47 percent of the recipients in 2010 were under the age of 18. That’s down from 49 percent in 2008.
Fudge pegged the figure at more than half while talking to Sharpton, so we asked her office to explain.
Fudge press secretary Laura Allen cited the 49 percent figure as well as another USDA statistic that claimed 52 percent of SNAP households include children.
"The congresswoman could have been more specific, but since 52 percent of households that receive SNAP include children, there is a strong argument that more than half of people ‘on SNAP’ or using the benefits are children," Allen wrote in an e-mail.
Just because half the households have children, doesn’t mean half the total recipients are children.
It turned out the 52 percent figure was taken from a USDA document that shows that in Fudge’s district in Ohio between 2007 and 2009, 51.5 percent of households receiving food stamps had children below the age of 18. A separate document for 2010 puts the figure at 48.7 percent.
Allen went on to say the Congresswoman’s slight overstatement was "an honest mistake."
Fair enough. And as mistakes go, this one is pretty small.
Roughly half the people on food stamps are children. Fudge described it as more than half based on data that was specific to her district. The actual figure for the national average is 47 percent, a point of clarification.
A statement that is accurate but requires additional information or clarification lands one place on the Truth-O-Meter: Mostly True.
Interview and email exchanges with Laura Allen, press secretary for Rep. Marcia Fudge
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Nutrition Service, "Characteristics of supplemental nutrition assistance program households: Fiscal Year 2008"
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Nutrition Service, "Characteristics of supplemental nutrition assistance program households: Fiscal Year 2010"
Interview with Belinda Prinz, communications director for Rep. Marcia Fudge, Nov. 10, 2011
Interview and email exchange with Kevin Seifert, press secretary for Rep. Paul Ryan, Nov. 9, 2011
Fiscal Year 2012 House Budget Resolution, "The Path to Prosperity"
The Plain Dealer, "U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge to dine on food stamp budget for week," Nov. 2, 2011
The Washington Post, "Food Stamp Challenge participants step into the shoes of the poor," Nov. 4, 2011
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