As Gingrich presses, fiction becomes fact on food stamp debate

Here and Now

Newt Gingrich has been criticized for repeatedly calling President Obama, “the food stamp president” — but he’s not backing down.

In face, he’s using his own comments from a recent debate in a new ad out this week. In the ad, Gingrich claims “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” But according to USA Today, as of December, more people had gone on food stamps under President Bush than under President Obama.

At the very debate where the comments were recorded, Fox News commentator Juan Williams asked Gingrich if his comments were racially motivated.

“People of all races are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities,” he said.

Gingrich, however, has rebutted those comments by falling back on statements he made previously in New Hampshire. At the time, he said that if you went to any neighborhood in America, you’d be hard pressed to find a place where people wouldn’t prefer their neighbors have paychecks, rather than receive food stamps.

Mark Rank, Washington University in St. Louis professor of social welfare, said food stamps are used by a wide swath of the population, rather than being concentrated among African-Americans, which Gingrich has seemed to imply at times.

“If you’re black, you’re at a much greater risk of being in poverty and a much greater risk of using food stamps, but nevertheless if you look at the overall population that are poor or on food stamps, the majority are white,” Rank said.

On the other hand, Rank said, the majority of food stamp users are actually elderly, or disabled or children — people who wouldn’t necessarily be expected to be able to find a job.

“Folks that really are deserving of assistance,” Rank said.

Rank also rejected the notion that either Obama or Bush are responsible for putting people on food stamps. What puts people on food stamps, he said, is unemployment and the economy.

“It’s ridiculous for the most part for people to say President Obama put people on food stamps. It’s the Great Recession that put people on food stamps,” he said.

And when it comes to Bush, he said, a big reason for the increase in use of food stamps were changes in the system, including moving from actual stamps to a debit card.

“It makes it easier administratively to administer the program. It’s also easier for people who are using the program,” Rank said. “There was more of an outreach effort, in saying this is an important nutrition program.”

And all of that happened under the Bush administration, which led to more people coming into the food stamp program. As for the Obama administration, the government expanded the program, extending the amount of time people could receive food stamps and expanding the overall level of benefits people can receive.

“In order to get this program, you have to be in pretty dire straits,” he said.

About 25 percent of people eligible for food stamps don’t actually join the program, Rank said. Students, people on strike and undocumented immigrants are all prohibited from the program.

“Given the economic conditions, given what’s happening to people on the ground, states are making the decision that (they) need to continue this, at least until economic conditions improve,” Rank said.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.