Profile: Michael Wiseman
Michael Wiseman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) issues accusations that Americans on government aid programs are in many cases wasteful drug users who use their aid money to go on lavish vacations. Gingrich, riding a surge of popularity as the Iowa caucuses approach, calls President Obama “the food stamp president” during his stump speeches. In an appearance in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Gingrich says: “Remember, this is the best food stamp president in history. So more Americans today get food stamps than before. And we now give it away as cash—you don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card, and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. They give food stamps now to millionaires because, after all, don’t you want to be compassionate? You know, the Obama model: isn’t there somebody you’d like to give money to this week. That’s why we’re now going to help bailout Italy because we haven’t bailed out enough people this week, the president thought let’s write another check. After all, we have so much extra money.” The nonpartisan fact-checking entity PolitiFact calls Gingrich’s accusations complete lies. The “food stamp program,” known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has very strict guidelines about what can and cannot be bought with federal aid dollars. Except for very limited exceptions, SNAP recipients cannot use aid money for restaurant meals or to buy anything other than groceries. SNAP funds cannot be used to buy alcoholic beverages. The “electronic benefits transfer” card, or EBT cards, are similar in appearance to credit cards, but have a very different function. EBT cardholders cannot use their cards to buy airline tickets, whether it be for Hawaiian vacations or anything else. PolitiFact doubts that any recipients would have enough funds to buy such tickets in the first place; the average monthly SNAP benefit is $134 per person. Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution says, “There is undoubtedly some illegal bartering of EBT cards—though I understand trafficking in EBT cards is less than under the old food stamps—but I am having trouble imagining how you could barter an EBT card for an airplane ticket.” PolitiFact notes that Gingrich’s claims may have come from a recent news broadcast in St. Louis, which found that some Missouri SNAP recipients spent $2,737 on food in Hawaii in January 2011. The money, though spent out of state, was spent on legitimate goods such as groceries. The amount was .07 percent of the total money allocated to SNAP residents in Missouri for January 2011. And the Missouri beneficiaries had legitimate reasons to be in Hawaii—some of them were members of the military transferred to new duty bases, for example. If the Missouri story is the source of Gingrich’s claims, PolitiFact notes, then Gingrich completely misrepresented the facts of the story. As far as the “food stamps for millionaires” claim, anyone who earns over 130 percent of the poverty line cannot receive benefits. No such beneficiaries have been identified, and if they do exist, they are breaking the law. Michael Wiseman of George Washington University says, “I would challenge Newt Gingrich to find a millionaire in annual income who gets on food stamps legally.” PolitiFact says that Gingrich’s claims are “so ridiculous” that the researchers thought for a time that he might be joking. Think Progress reporter Marie Diamond calls Gingrich’s claims “absurd.” At a recent campaign event in Iowa, citizen Don Brantz confronted Gingrich, saying: “You don’t always tell the truth, Mr. Gingrich, and that food stamp thing is one of them. Iowa already has a computer system. We do not pay money so the people on food stamps can buy beer and anything else. It’s a very specific thing.” (Diamond notes that Gingrich is a frequent world traveller, taking lengthy vacations in luxury spots around the world. In one instance, he told reporters that after taking a luxury cruise in Greece, he came away with a deeper understanding of the European financial crisis.) [St. Petersburg Times, 12/1/2011; Think Progress, 12/2/2011; ABC News, 1/2/2012] MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz will say that Gingrich, like fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA), “is also quick to connect programs like food stamps to the African-American community.” Schultz’s guest, author and radio host Michael Eric Dyson, says: “I don’t think we need Newt Gingrich’s pedagogy in the NAACP. I think this is condescension at its most poignant. And, as with Rick Santorum, when you have pet Negro causes, you tend to treat Negros like pets.” New York Times columnist Charles Blow will say of Gingrich’s remarks that “this sort of racial pandering is exactly what happens at this point in a race.” Blow calls Gingrich’s remarks “extreme, very racist.” [Politico, 1/6/2012]
Entity Tags: Michael Wiseman, Don Brantz, Charles M. Blow, Barack Obama, Edward Andrew (“Ed”) Schultz, Michael Eric Dyson, PolitiFact (.org ), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Marie Diamond, Newt Gingrich
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections
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