Food stamp sticker on store window.
More than 20 Democrats in Congress and other luminaries such as Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and actor Ben Affleck have taken the "SNAP Challenge," trying to live on a daily food budget of $4.50 to draw attention to the plight of the poor. But according to the Washington Post's Fact Checker column, it's nonsense.

The $4.50 figure is derived from the average monthly benefit of $133.44 for one person on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also known as food stamps. While that figure does seem pretty chintzy, SNAP Challenge misses a bigger point: SNAP was never designed to be someone's sole means for buying food.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "about 75 percent of SNAP participants use their own money in addition to SNAP benefits to buy food," the Post's Glenn Kessler writes. "Moreover, the maximum monthly benefits can quickly climb as the size of the household grows. A family of four, for instance, could receive as much as $668 a month for food. Indeed, households with children receive 71% of all SNAP benefits."

In addition, the USDA has a plethora of healthful recipes that cost $4.50 per serving and even some that are less than $1.50 per serving.


Still, even that $4.50-a-day allowance faces an uncertain future. On Thursday, the House of Representatives rejected a five-year, $500 billion farm bill that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and permitted states to impose new work requirements on people who receive the benefits.Spending on food stamps has doubled since 2008, reaching nearly $80 billion in fiscal 2012, and some conservatives have long argued the program is wasteful. A 2012 article from the Heritage Foundation called it "old and fossilized." As Kessler noted, some critics have challenged the SNAP Challenge by posting pictures on Twitter showing plentiful supplies of food that can be purchased through the program.

When it comes to costly entitlements like food stamps, Americans need a frank and honest discussion of their pros and cons -- not guilt-inducing publicity stunts such as the SNAP Challenge.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

More on moneyNOW