Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Millionaires and food stamps, revisited

Back in October, I issued a challenge:
But how many millionaires are gaming the system to get food stamps? I'm guessing maybe ... this guy. Maybe there are a few others out there. But I'll pull a number out of my posterior and guess that 99.99 percent of all food stamp recipients are not millionaires. And I defy anyone to prove otherwise.
The New York Times tries to get an answer today, and doesn't really come up with a number:
Department of Agriculture officials dismissed the notion of millionaire food stamp recipients. “Federal law is clear,” said Aaron Lavallee, a spokesman for the department. “The program is intended for households with income not exceeding 130 percent of poverty.”

Among the 46 million Americans who receive the assistance — roughly one in seven Americans — few seem to be millionaires.
That's not entirely satisfying, because we don't know how few are millionaires—even if we can surmise, as the Times does, that precious few are. But maybe we can extrapolate from the unemployment insurance numbers:
From 2005 to 2009, millionaires collected over $74 million in unemployment benefits, according to an estimate by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, who has paired with Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, to push to end the practice.

According to Mr. Coburn’s office, the Internal Revenue Service reported that 2,362 millionaires collected a total of $20,799,000 in unemployment benefits in 2009; 18 people with an adjusted gross income of $10,000,000 or more received an average of $12,333 in jobless benefits for a total of $222,000.
Now, we know that more than 20 million Americans collected unemployment insurance in 2009. If I'm doing the math correctly—never my strong suit—that means that roughly 1 percent of 1 percent of unemployment insurance beneficiaries were millionaires.

Now, unemployment insurance is linked to one's employment status—no matter how much you make, you're eligible if you lose your job. Food stamps are linked to your income: Which means it's probably very much harder to get such benefits if you're a millionaire. Republicans can produce the occasional anecdote, but I feel comfortable sticking with my assertion that 99.99 percent of all food stamp recipients are not millionaires.

None of which would be worth mentioning, except that Republicans are using the specter of millionaires receiving poor-people entitlements as justification to start to trim the safety net. It's "welfare queens" all over again, and it's dishonest.

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