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Profile: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) 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

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA), continuing his rhetorical attacks on President Obama, singles out African-Americans as largely dependent on “food stamps.” Appearing at campaign rallies in New Hampshire, Gingrich repeatedly calls Obama “the best food stamp president in history,” says he would be “the best paycheck president in American history,” and says of African-Americans that he wants to tell them why they should “not be satisfied with food stamps.” Gingrich says he would be willing to discuss the topic at the next NAACP convention. Gingrich says: “More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history. Now, there’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, ‘Would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks?’ you wouldn’t end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck. And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which should be particularly good for African-American males—because they’re the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span.” Think Progress reporter Tanya Somanader calls Gingrich’s take on food stamp recipients both “prejudicial” and “false.” The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has white Americans as the majority of its recipients. Most Americans receiving food stamps are either children or elderly retirees. Working-age women of all races represent only 28 percent of SNAP beneficiaries, and working-age men represent only 17 percent. Many SNAP beneficiaries actually have jobs and bring home paychecks that are their primary source of income; 85 percent of those recipients live below the poverty line. Somanader writes, “Thus, SNAP benefits provide a necessary safety net to families trying to stay afloat in a sluggish economy.” [ABC News, 1/2/2012; Think Progress, 1/5/2012] NAACP president Benjamin Jealous will note that Gingrich rejected multiple invitations to speak at the NAACP convention in past years. [MSNBC, 1/5/2012] Gingrich’s fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) recently said that he wanted to end the cycle of blacks “taking someone else’s money” via SNAP and other federal safety-net programs (see January 1-3, 2012). Gingrich recently advocated firing most school custodial and maintenance workers and forcing poor children (presumably federal aid recipients) to fill the positions instead (see November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011). Previously, Gingrich has accused food stamp recipients of being millionaires and using the money to “go to Hawaii” (coincidentally Obama’s home state). Government and independent experts say that the surge in federal aid recipients—higher now than in any time in US history—is because of policies instituted under George W. Bush and, in some cases, continued by Obama. The stories Gingrich tells of millionaire food stamp recipients vacationing in Hawaii have been shown to be false (see November 30 - December 2, 2011), though under a now-obsolete form of food stamp distribution, some recipients were able to use the proceeds to buy beer or trade them for small amounts of cash. [ABC News, 1/2/2012]

Entity Tags: Tanya Somanader, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, George W. Bush, Benjamin Jealous, Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the “food stamp” program, is playing a critical role in keeping American citizens from starving during the economic recession. The program has long been reviled by Republicans and conservatives, and recently Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich (R-GA) smeared President Obama as “the food stamp president” (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), and falsely claimed that Obama has presided over the largest increase of Americans receiving SNAP assistance in US history (see January 17, 2012). The program benefits a disproportionately large number of children and disabled and elderly people, according to the CBPP. Since the recession began in late 2007, the CBPP says, “SNAP has responded effectively to the recession” in providing much-needed assistance to Americans, particularly since the recession has driven many families into “low-income” status. “According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts SNAP as income, SNAP kept more than 5 million people out of poverty in 2010 and lessened the severity of poverty for millions of others.” As the economy recovers and legislative provisions expire, SNAP spending will decrease, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predictions. “By 2022 SNAP is expected to return nearly to pre-recession levels as a share of GDP. Over the long term, SNAP is not growing faster than the overall economy and thus is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.” The payment accuracy of SNAP is extraordinarily high, the CBPP claims, refuting the claims of massive fraud made by Gingrich and other opponents of the program. And, according to the CBPP, economists say that the program is “one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus,” helping grow the economy as it protects poverty-stricken families. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1/9/2012]

Entity Tags: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Barack Obama, US Census Bureau, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Newt Gingrich, Congressional Budget Office

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

The nonpartisan FactCheck.org finds that recent claims by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history” are wrong. In fact, far more Americans were added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls under President George W. Bush than under Obama. Gingrich has made the claim in a number of political speeches (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), but his reiteration of the claim during a recent Republican debate in South Carolina has drawn a great deal of media attention (see January 16, 2012). FactCheck finds: “Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it’s also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office. But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents.” Information from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)‘s Food and Nutrition Service going back to January 2001 “show[s] that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.” Moreover, “the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.” The trend in recent months has been for the number of food-stamp recipients to decline, another fact Gingrich fails to note. FactCheck finds that the rise in the number of Americans on food stamps—currently one out of seven—began during the second term of the Bush presidency. “In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007,” the organization writes. “To be sure, Obama is responsible for some portion of the increase since then. The stimulus bill he signed in 2009 increased benefit levels, making the program more attractive. A family of four saw an increase of $80 per month, for example.… The stimulus also made more people eligible. Able-bodied jobless adults without dependents could get benefits for longer than three months.” Part of the reason for the higher number of recipients under Obama is the new outreach to eligible citizens by state governments, according to the USDA; many state governments have worked harder to inform eligible citizens of their right to apply for government assistance, and have reduced the amount of information that claimants must provide to receive assistance. FactCheck concludes: “We don’t argue that the program is either too large (as Gingrich does) or too small. It has certainly reached a historically high level, and may or may not grow even larger in the months to come. But the plain fact is that the growth started long before Obama took office, and participation grew more under Bush.” And it quotes the USDA’s Kevin Concannon, who recently told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “I realize Mr. Gingrich is a historian, but I’m not sure he’d get very high marks on that paper.” [USA Today, 1/17/2012] CBS News notes that the White House has called Gingrich’s claims “crazy,” and finds: “While the number of people on food stamps is indeed at a record level, that’s in part because of eligibility rules being relaxed under the administration of George W. Bush. It’s also due in part to the economic downturn that began under Mr. Bush.… [T]hat percentage increase hardly makes Obama the ‘best food stamp president in American history,’ at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush’s presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008—an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary.” [CBS News, 1/17/2012] US News and World Report agrees with FactCheck, finding that “SNAP participation has been on the rise since well before President Obama took office. Nearly 17.2 million people in FY 2000 participated in the program, a figure that increased by nearly 64 percent by 2008.” [US News and World Report, 1/17/2012] The Associated Press accuses Gingrich of distorting the facts and notes: “It’s gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade but that is because of measures taken before Obama became president. It’s true that the number of people on food stamps is now at a record level. That’s due mainly to the ailing economy, which Republicans blame on Obama, as well as rising food costs. The worst downturn since the Great Depression wiped out 8.7 million jobs, pushed the unemployment rate to a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, and increased poverty.” [Associated Press, 1/17/2012] The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that SNAP is a critical element in keeping poverty-stricken Americans, particularly children and the elderly, from starving during the economic recession (see January 9, 2012).

Entity Tags: Kevin Concannon, CBS News, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, George W. Bush, US News and World Report, Obama administration, FactCheck (.org), US Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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