CNN anchor Carol Costello questioned Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker's efforts to raise awareness of hunger in America, asking whether his decision to take the food-stamp challenge amounted to a publicity stunt. But Costello's own reporting on food insecurity sheds light on the need for greater public awareness, even as funding for supplemental food programs faces cuts during the final weeks of 2012.
In November, Booker announced that he would take the food-stamp challenge and live for one week on a food budget equal to that of a New Jersey resident on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. That came after a Twitter user challenged the mayor over the need for federal nutrition assistance. Booker's challenge began Monday and will last a week.
On Tuesday, CNN correspondent Alina Cho reported that Booker was taking the challenge to demonstrate the need for "deeper consideration" of Americans who rely on SNAP benefits and to "reduce the stigma" that often comes with reliance on the program. Costello questioned the long-term impact of Booker's campaign and asked whether it was "helpful or a pointless exercise."
Booker's challenge comes at a critical time for SNAP funding, as House Republicans push to reduce spending on the effective antipoverty program during year-end negotiations over broader spending cuts and the federal farm bill, which includes SNAP spending. Costello herself noted the push to cut SNAP funding during a discussion of the farm bill in September.
And, as Costello herself has demonstrated, public understanding of food insecurity and federal nutrition programs is often ill informed:
- During a discussion of the farm bill in July, Costello said, "I don't think many people know that food stamps are under the farm bill for some reason." She went on to note that, despite that lack of understanding, the program is "not popular with many Americans."
- In September, Costello noted that supporters of Mitt Romney pointed to use of SNAP benefits to defend his controversial comments that 47 percent of Americans felt entitled to food and refused to take personal responsibility for their actions. Costello said: "I will say the fact remains there are more people on food stamps now than ever before. I mean does Romney, you know, as inelegantly, as he put it, does he have a point? A lot of people would say he does."
In questioning the effectiveness of Booker's efforts to raise awareness of this issue, Costello opined:
I'm not saying Booker is insincere. I'm just wondering what living for just a week in someone else's shoes really proves. It's not like the food stamp challenge hasn't been done before. The mayors of Philadelphia and Phoenix, even super chef Mario Batali have done it. What will it tell us that we don't already know? The talk back question for you today: is Cory Booker's food stamp challenge helpful or a pointless exercise?
Her own reporting on what Americans don't already know about food insecurity provides an answer.