Actress Gwyneth Paltrow recently claimed on Twitter that “families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have” only $29 “to live on for a week.” She said she’d live on that amount for a week to draw attention to the struggles of America’s poor.
One glaring problem with Paltrow’s cause is that her figures are a complete fabrication (as I pointed out on Twitter). According to the USDA, which runs SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps), the “maximum monthly allotment” for a family of four is $649—more than five times what Paltrow claims. The maximum amount a single person can get in a month is $194.
Paltrow makes two factual errors. Apparently she picked up the $29 figure from the Food Bank for New York City, which Paltrow mentions on Twitter. But that figure pertains to an individual, not a family.
Paltrow also confuses the average SNAP contribution with what a person or a family “has to live on.” A key term in SNAP is “supplemental.” The program is intended to supplement an individual’s or family’s food budget, not to provide every last morsel. If a recipient of SNAP handouts receives less than the maximum, that’s because the program deems the recipient able to spend some of his own money on food. Thus, the average SNAP benefit is not relevant in calculating how much the recipient spends on food. In any event, the USDA reports that in 2014 the “average monthly benefit per household” was $256.98 and the “average monthly benefit per person” was $125.35 (which squares with the $29 per week figure).
The deeper problem with Paltrow’s cause is that it presumes that taking wealth from some people by force and handing it to others is moral. It is not. Individuals have a moral right to use their wealth as they see fit. If a person wishes to give money or food to other individuals or to a food bank, that is his right. If he wishes to spend his money on something else, or save it, that is also his right. In no case may government morally seize people’s wealth by force and turn it over to others.