Thursday, May 15, 2008

Think people in poverty are scamming the system? Think again!

Who's really scamming the system?

Each summer we operate a summer program called Urban Experience. The program is designed to educate people outside of the inner cities about issues that impact our friends and neighbors in the inner city.

This year we are working with the USDA to provide a session called Buck and a Half lunch, the amount per person, per meal that families receive through food stamps. The USDA's goal is to teach people how to make healthy meals with only $1.50 per person.

Our goal at the Urban Experience is to educate people on the time, effort, and obstacles associated with attempting to provide that healthy, buck and a half lunch.

Although I am very aware of the research and commentary that talks about the injustices and inequities in the inner city, it always strikes me harder when I actually see it laid out on paper. I had asked two of the people helping with the Urban Experience to price the menu ingredients at the local Walmart and the community corner store. Despite my awareness, I was still shocked by what I saw.

Before I show you the numbers, keep in mind that...


  1. The prices only compare foods that are similar in brand; we did not try to make this look worse than it is by comparing name brand to off-brand.
  2. The community corner stores lack the majority of foods needed in order to create this healthy lunch; therefore, without adequate transportation, these healthy meals would not even be an option.
  3. The community corner stores offer primarily chips, soda, and snack foods. These high in sugar and fat foods offer the ability for a filling food, though not healthy.
  4. When comparing prices, corner stores often offered small sizes (like 8 oz) while grocery stores offered larger sizes (like 16 oz). When comparing prices, we had to purchase two 8 oz sizes in order to equal the 16 oz we needed for the recipe.
  5. The corner stores did not offer a cheaper, store brand. All items were name brand.

In the price list below, the first price is Walmart, the second is the community corner store, and the third number is the difference between the two.

Chili powder $3.18 $2.36 +.82

Flour tortillas $1.50 $1.79 +.29

Black pepper $2.50 $1.99 +.50

Green beans $.50 $1.19 +.69

Vegetable oil $3.88 $3.99 +.11

Vinegar $.62 $.99 +.37

Pineapple $1.12 $1.69 +.57

Ramen noodles $.14 $.50 +.36

Salsa $2.50 $2.99 +.49

Miracle Whip $2.12 $2.99 +.87

Paper plates $1.28 $1.59 +.31

napkins $1.64 $1.39 +$1.14

The total amount spent for one meal at the corner store versus the grocery store is $5.93 more. Of course, most of these are condiments and sides. Most corner stores don't stock up on healthy foods for neighbors to purchase.

When you take into account that if someone has no transportation or bus fare and would need to purchase their items from the corner store, $5-$6 extra per day to make a meal ends up being about $150-$180 per month.

Is it really the poor who are taking advantage of the system??
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