Wednesday, July 07, 2010


At least one SoCal radio station has been promoting a charity that’s soliciting funds by asserting that many children in the area are going hungry this summer because they’re no longer getting the free meals that were provided at school.

This sales pitch raised a question in my mind because over thirty years ago I worked in a government food stamp office in Atlanta, Georgia. I knew first-hand that these benefits, even in the late 70s, were rather generous. And I knew they were available in short order for folks without assets and income.

So I decided to check on the monthly food stamp allotment in California for a family of three without assets. You can do your own figuring at

I recall from sheer repetition that the late 70s figure in Georgia was $120. Today the amount available in California to a three-person household without significant assets and any income is $526.

Note that $526 isn’t the total amount of welfare benefits for which this household qualifies. There are other sources of income like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that annually dispenses 6.6 billion dollars in aid throughout the Golden State (3.7 billion of which comes from the feds).

The benefits from the latter program, however, are distributed in the form of cash grants that can be accessed via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) debit cards and ATM machines. As was recently disclosed, these EBT cards even work at ATMs in 32 of 58 tribal casinos and 47 of 90 state-licensed poker rooms.

The fact that the state has been oblivious to this absurd juxtapositioning of welfare cash and casino ATMs makes it a good bet that a lot of money dedicated to food stamps is also directed (by other means) toward less-than-nutritional objectives.

In short, most households have to be extraordinarily irresponsible with the money available to them for their kids to actually “go hungry”—school or no school. A different set of disclosure circumstances faces households where adults aren’t in the country legally. But the “hungry children” promo said nothing about that issue—for obvious PR reasons.

Bottom line: Folks should be wary of solicitations that employ the malleable “hunger” category—a term that describes almost everyone during certain hours of the day. What truly deserve support are efforts to prevent “malnutrition” and “starvation”—both of which are abundant in abysmally poor countries.

In the Southland, donations to character-focused programs like those of Father Joe Carroll’s Toussaint Youth Village are far more likely to do lasting good than bucks to assuage summertime gastric growls.

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