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Gwyneth Paltrow misinformed on food stamps

The statement

$29 is what "families on SNAP (food stamps) have to live on for a week."

Gwyneth Paltrow, actor, April 9 in a tweet

The ruling

The health-conscious actor accepted a challenge to live on food stamps for a week and draw attention to the Food Bank for New York City last month.

Paltrow shared a photo of her grocery haul in a tweet and the Internet quickly balked at her choices.

A reader saw the $29 budget figure in Paltrow's challenge, which she quit after four days, and asked us to look into it.

The key to understanding SNAP starts with its full name — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The "Supplemental" is key because SNAP is not designed to provide low-income families with all the money they need to eat every meal.

It's supposed to supplement grocery spending, not replace it.

SNAP is one of the government's biggest welfare programs, costing about $70 billion in 2014. Demand for SNAP grew over the course of the recession, reaching a high of more than 47 million beneficiaries in 23 million households.

To receive SNAP benefits, a person must:

• Show assets less than $2,250;

• Report gross monthly income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line;

• Report net monthly income at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty line.

How much a person or household receives depends on how much income they make and how big the household is.

The sliding scale, which comes with monthly maximums, emphasizes how SNAP is indeed supplemental, and how Paltrow's claim is wanting.

Say a household of four qualifies for SNAP with a $1,136 net monthly income. Although the maximum SNAP benefit is $649 a month, that household would receive only $308 a month (about $19 per person, per week), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In this case, the USDA assumes the household would spend an additional $341 of their own money (30 percent of their monthly income) on food.

What about people who have no income?

They would get more SNAP money. A single person could receive $194 a month (about $48 a week). SNAP benefits for a household of four would be closer to $40 a week.

Neither number is near Paltrow's $29-a-week figure. That figure is the amount of SNAP benefits for the average individual (all benefits divided by all people).

The trouble is, that calculation misses the point that SNAP is supposed to supplement food budgets, does not account for the fact that people with no net income receive more government support and ignores other government programs that provide food aid.

For low-income women who are pregnant or have infants, they may also utilize another USDA supplemental program for women, infants and children (WIC). School programs offer free and reduced breakfast and lunch to children. (About 48 percent of all students were eligible for free or reduced lunch in the 2010-11 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education.)

In 2013, 24 percent of SNAP households had Social Security income, 7 percent received welfare payments under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and 4 percent received unemployment assistance.

It's clear Paltrow is trying to do a good thing. But her specific claim falls short.

We rate the claim Mostly False.

Katie Sanders, Times staff writer

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