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The Daily Need

Another big problem with Newt Gingrich’s ‘food stamp’ claim

As it turns out, food stamps are one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy during a recession.

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich with his wife Callista during a Florida primary night rally on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Now that Mitt Romney has thumped his rivals in Florida and regained the mantle of GOP front-runner, there’s only one person who can really decide whether the race ends soon or drags on: Newt Gingrich. Gingrich’s grandiosity — or his “nuttiness,” as some conservative commentators have called it — is likely to animate the Republican primary at least through Super Tuesday. And even though Gingrich is unlikely to win the nomination, there are still many conservative voters who like his bombast and culture war broadsides against “the establishment” and “the media.”

Those broadsides, however, aren’t always based in reality — and they threaten to derail both his campaign and, potentially, the GOP effort to unseat President Obama. For example, Gingrich is still defending perhaps his most infamous claim yet, that Obama is the “greatest food stamp president” in history. Critics and fact-checkers have denounced the claim as offensive, racially charged and flat-out wrong. Obama himself dismissed the claim as “divisive” in an interview with ABC this week. And there are factual problems with the statement, too.

For one thing, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a voluntary program, so Gingrich’s contention that Obama is “forcing” people onto food stamps doesn’t make sense. The increase in SNAP enrollment is also clearly a product of the recession, which began more than a year before Obama took office. And as it turns out, SNAP enrollment began to tick up during the administration of George W. Bush, due to rules changes adopted by the Bush administration that made it easier for people to apply for and receive benefits.

But there’s another, more fundamental problem with Gingrich’s claim that no one seems to be mentioning, and which illustrates the core disagreement between Republicans and Democrats heading into the general election: Food stamps, as it turns out, are one of the most effective tools available for stimulating economic growth during a recession. In fact, SNAP benefits are as much as three times more effective at stimulating economic growth than policies favored by Gingrich, such as tax cuts for high earners.

According to a “multiplier analysis” conducted last year by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, “transfer payments” from the federal government to the states for social welfare programs such as unemployment benefits and food stamps had as much as 2.1 dollars of economic impact for every one dollar spent. According to the CBO, that makes food stamps basically one of the best things you can do to keep the economy moving during a recession. By contrast, a one-year tax cut for high earners had only 0.6 dollars of economic impact for every one dollar spent. As Chad Stone, chief economist at the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, put it last year: “Republicans want to give tax cuts to high-income individuals, and that’s not nearly as effective” as programs like food stamps.

Why? In short, because food stamps help fill gaps in working Americans’ household budgets, which allows them to spend more money on buying things, which stimulates the economy. As Abby Jean, a political blogger on Tumblr, noted, a large and growing share of SNAP households are actually working households. So food stamps aren’t purely hardship assistance programs — they put money back in the pockets of working people who contribute to the American economy.

In all the coverage of the Gingrich “food stamp” refrain, that fact has gone largely unstated, but it gets at the central philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats this year: Democrats believe stimulating consumer demand will revive the economy, Republicans want to keep taxes low for high earners. Calling Obama “the food stamp president,” then, may be wrong and offensive, as many critics have argued, but it’s also not really a mark of shame. According to the numbers, calling him a “tax cuts for rich people” president would be much, much more damning.

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  • E F Henry

    So Romney says the poor have a “safety net”, presumably in programs like food stamps, and Gingrich the grinch criticizes this most basic of humanitarian needs, assuring food to working people as well as the poor.  So where does that put these religious folks who back very conservative candidates who are following Christian principles?

  • Carochip

    There is a LOT of abuse in the food stamp program.  I see it daily in South Georgia.  We Christians believe in teaching men to fish and having a government who gets out of the way so small businesses can hire more low level people to work and therefore feed their families.  It’s really a person responsibility issue that we have lost in this country.  Also, we have plenty of food banks available funded and staffed by local churches in most parts of our country.

  • talkswithowls

    Obama is the food stamp president……truth hurts. 

  • Prov 14:31

     The reply from Carochip just goes to show how un-Christian many so-called Christians are. I think he needs to read Matt. 25:34-25:46.

  • runi

    SNAP (the Food Stamp program) is a mess. Although some of the problems are due to abuse by recipients, most problems are caused by the way the program is structured. Instead of focusing on what food classifications are  not covered, the program should concentrate on what food products ARE covered.
    The WIC program (in many states) is a good example of proper emphasis. 

  • Carochip

    The difference is that you believe the government should provide to the needy what I believe God meant for individuals to provide.  That is one of my top missions in life, to help others, and I do so daily.  My gifts and many other’s gifts, of time, food, money, care-giving, etc. are direct aid to the person in need.  With government, there is tremendous waste and inefficiency, and unfortunately, growing dependency…….a way of life.  Sad, but true.  The bible verse you cited is one of my favorites.   

  • Anonymous

    Have you ever gone to bed hungry because you had no food? I have.

    When I tell people that there are 49 million people, the Census bureau accepts as being disabled, many who cannot work, they say “You gotta be kidding”.

    I do contend that the 11 million Illegal Aliens from Mexico are “gaming the Food Stamp system” gaining access to food stamps with anchor babies. We need to shut that down. But for others, the numbers support some sort of help to prevent hunger.

    I lived in a thrid world country, as a kid, and remember when a man knocked on our door and asked ” Do you have any food to spare (the country had no food stamp program) and as I turned away to get my Dad, the man said ‘It is better to Beg than it is to Steal”.

    We were not wealthy and gave the man some canned goods.

    The people who live in gated communities better remember that comment.

  • Thecrop

    So are you advocating what someone should eat.  Is this perhaps because they have financial problems.  I admit there is fraud, just as doctors have ripped the medicare and medicaid system to send their kids to college at the tax payers expense.  Leave the poor people alone and at the least let them buy whatever food the system says is acceptable under the program.  Now I admit that illegal people should not be able to get anything here.  Think about it, a baby delivered here can’t feed itself so how is the illegal mother able to get benefits.  Heck americans don’t have it that easy.  Besides, as long as our government is pushing farm-aide to rich farms, people should be able to get food stamps if they qualify.  No one ever talk about what tax dollars go to pay farmers.

  • Thecrop

    It puts them precisely where they were back in the beginning of this country.  The upstanding christian was all for slavery.  To the tune of dehumanizing people but raping the little girls and women while claiming to be christian.  The really sad part about it is that the wives knew and condoned it.  Just because someone claims they are christian, doesn’t mean they are. 

  • Thecrop

    It puts them precisely where they were back in the beginning of this country.  The upstanding christian was all for slavery.  To the tune of dehumanizing people but raping the little girls and women while claiming to be christian.  The really sad part about it is that the wives knew and condoned it.  Just because someone claims they are christian, doesn’t mean they are. 

  • Bob

    More and more states are clamping down on FOOD STAMP qualifications such as tighter “MEANS TESTING” (according to allowed Federal Law), and “RANDOM DRUG TESTING” to qualify, so the TRULY NEEDY people get the help, but right away the agencies for the poor scream that it’s NU-FAIR….REALLY?  Is it THEIR money they are giving away?  IF that’s the case, the agencies should be THRILLED that the savings might allow them to hire more people to handle the backlog of work instead of whining that they will be overwhelmed!  At least the states are giving notice that the doors on FRAUD and ABUSE, are starting to close!  It’s about time!!  

  • Gustavo Corral

    Economic stimuli come in 2 forms : those that stimulate current consumption ( like food stamps ) and those that stimulate investment ( like an investment tax credit ).
     Either way they cost money. Money that will later have to be repaid ( if you can understand the consequences of this sentence, you are already better that many Ph.D. economists ) as will be seen when interest rates reset as they have for Greece and Italy.
     So since it costs $, I know you are going to balance out the effect of the stimulus today with the effect of the destimulus tomorrow when you pay it off with extra taxes. As a viewer of PBS, you already form part of a group of analytical thinkers that are not taken in by the idea of the “free money” that the rich represent. Rather, you know that even if taxes on the rich were free, they represent tax cuts on the middle class that you could have given if you hadn’t blown the money on an unsustainable stimulus package.

  • runi

    Reply to The Crop–
    For example, at least here, Food Stamps can be used to buy soda, although it doesn’t have any nutritional value.  On top of that, many people who pay their own way have tight budgets that do not permit soda. 

  • John

    Americans go nuts over welfare, yet must find $1 trillion to support the wounded from insane wars for life.

  • the truth speeker

    the reason y theres so many problems with the economy being the way it is, Is because the  system is  makeing it easy and inticeing to get and stay on welfare if they would stop telling people they could get new cars or new homes the more kids u have the more help u get, payed bills,and many other things.they would have never had this big of problem.. now you see babys haveing babys, the more kids the more money!!! then it becomes a circle of this problem over and over because that family that has 5 kids just taught this other family how to get the state to pay the dad to babysitt his own that just caused someone else to use the system.. its over and over and the state just keeps letting it happen..its sad and the people that need the help cant get half of what they need help with to survive the dieng economy..

  • Russ

    Did you read the article? “Calling Obama “the food stamp president,” then, may be wrong and offensive, as many critics have argued, but it’s also not really a mark of shame. According to the numbers, calling him a “tax cuts for rich people” president would be much, much more damning.” The truth hurts a lot less than you think.

  • Bogdan B

    If part the money these politicians recieves from people and super packs to get elected to help the economy restart was given to food banks and charities that help people in need of household expenses, we wouldn’t be in such bad economic woes. Newt Gingrich received 24 million from that Arizona tycoon and lost the republican bid. Just imagine how many people and communities it would of helped and saved.