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Sunday, January 22, 2012

“FOOD STAMP” PRESIDENT?

Newt Gingrich (he of doubtful ethical standards) has called President Obama the “Food Stamp President”, and alleged that under this President, more people have been put on food stamps than ever before in American history.  The self-styled historian failed to mention that both Democrat and Republican administrations have distributed food stamps or food surplus to the unemployed and the needy.  The food stamp act that created a program much like we now have was passed under Lyndon Johnson, and the program got underway in 1969.  So the great historian failed to clarify that “ever before in American history” is a bit of an exaggeration since the food stamp program has had a relatively short span of just 43 years.

In that same 43-year history, we have never been in a more difficult economic period than we are living through right now.  Thank goodness, President Obama’s administration has seen fit to uplift, rescue and sustain the many people who have had to apply for food stamps in order to keep body and soul together.

Politifact.com says that Newt is only half-right about all this and concludes that the economy, not Obama, is the major reason for the increase. 

“The number of SNAP beneficiaries is at a record level, and it has risen in most months of the Obama presidency. But Gingrich oversimplifies when he suggests that Obama is the root cause. Much of the reason for the increase was a combination of the economic problems Obama inherited combined with a longstanding upward trend from policy changes. But Obama has supported those policies. On balance, we rate Gingrich’s statement Half True.”

Here are a few more things that Gingrich failed to mention:

--Under George W. Bush, the eligibility for SNAP was widened considerably so more families and individuals could be covered; Obama simply followed that trend
--According to Politifact.com, “the number rose in seven out of the eight years of Bush’s presidency -- most of which were years not considered recessionary. All told, the number of recipients rose by a cumulative 63 percent during Bush’s eight-year presidency.”
--More red states utilize food stamps, so apparently a large number of Republican Governors don’t act on the ideology that such “welfare” should be discontinued. “So far, few elected officials have objected to the program’s growth,” says NYTimes.com

What Newt fails to acknowledge, above all, is that the downturn of the economy under George W. Bush is what brought us to the brink of an economic depression (through policies and ideology that Newt supports).  The failures of the Bush years -- lack of regulation of wall street and large corporations; the tax breaks given to the rich without corresponding funding; the failure to understand that banks were over-leveraged; the housing bubble - created by unregulated lending practices - that burst and created millions of foreclosures; the unnecessary war of personal revenge in Iraq that cost us not only young lives but young limbs and young psyches; the attack upon the middle class and workers as more and more jobs and industries moved abroad without a whimper of protest from the Bush administration; the massive layoffs and the failure to create jobs; the lack of attention to our infrastructure and our environment; the failure to break our addiction to foreign oil -- all of these and more created the situation in which we now find ourselves.  And the preposterous assertion that this economic downturn is Obama’s fault because he had to spend more to work us out of it, is perhaps the biggest bamboozle of them all.

Yes, President Obama has strongly utilized the SNAP program to provide qualifying, low-income Americans with vouchers to buy groceries--and more power to him!  Again, according to PolitiFact.com:  “Obviously, the rise in food stamps is a direct consequence of the serious recession that began in December 2007 -- more than a year before Obama took office.  The experts we spoke to, conservative and liberal, agree that Obama inherited a serious economic situation.”

Gingrich makes it sound as though all recipients of food stamps are “on the take” and cheating the federal government.  In contrast, the most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program's beneficiaries paints an entirely different picture of recipients.  In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:

•47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.
•8% were age 60 or older.
•41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called "working poor." 
•The average household received a monthly benefit of  just $287.
•36% were White (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.

In the first three years of the Obama administration, the food stamp program has been used to address certain needs and concerns that have arisen because of the deep recession, as we learn from a comprehensive article on the NYTimes.com website:
 
--Obama's stimulus act made it easier for childless, jobless adults to qualify for the program and increased the monthly benefit by about 15% through 2013
--Food stamps have become a lifeline for the millions of long-term unemployed. More than 20% of those unemployed for more than six months received benefits, according to Congress' Joint Economic Committee
--The range of people struggling with basic needs includes single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave their pantries bare.
--Growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.
--The program’s growing reach can be seen in a corner of southwestern Ohio where red state politics reign and blue-collar workers have often called food stamps a sign of laziness. But unemployment has soared, and food stamp use in a six-county area outside Cincinnati has risen more than 50 percent.
--In Indiana, Elkhart County makes the majority of the nation’s recreational vehicles. Sales have fallen more than half during the recession, and nearly 30 percent of the county’s children are receiving food stamps.
--This is the first recession in which a majority of the poor in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, giving food stamps new prominence there. Use has grown by half or more in dozens of suburban counties from Boston to Seattle, including such bulwarks of modern conservatism as California’s Orange County, where the rolls are up more than 50 percent.
--Most enlisted military personnel E-5 and below qualify for some kind of government assistance, i.e. food stamps, subsidized daycare.  “Poverty among military families is a greatly under-reported story,” said Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times columnist… Last year, Ehrenreich reported that according to her sources, some 25,000 families of service members were eligible for Food Stamps.

Stacy Dean of the Centre for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a think-tank, argues that the rapid growth of food stamps in recent years is a sign that they are working as intended, responding promptly to hard economic times. In contrast, she points out, block-grant programs (favored by Gingrich and his colleagues) grow much more slowly when times are tough, since funding for them does not increase in line with demand. Food-stamp participation rose by 45% between December 2007 and December 2009, CBPP calculates, while the number of families receiving cash grants under TANF, a block-grant scheme, rose by just 13%.

Food stamps also help stimulate the economy more than other forms of government spending, points out Jim Weill of Food Research and Action Centre, a charity, since their recipients are so poor that they tend to spend them immediately. When Moody’s Analytics assessed different forms of stimulus, it found that food stamps were the most effective, increasing economic activity by $1.73 for every dollar spent. Unemployment insurance came in second, at $1.62, whereas most tax cuts yielded a dollar or less.

As usual, Newt Gingrich uses half-truths and bloated rhetoric to sound intelligent, but as is so often true, he misses the mark.  In contrast, President Obama has taken action to protect and expand an important program so that millions of people could be helped.  What, after all, is Newt Gingrich (and his clown gang) proposing: that food stamps should be drastically reduced or simply eliminated?  He doesn’t really tell us exactly what he would do as President.  But you can bet your bottom dollar (and a lot of people have reached that precarious level) that he would not protect or expand this program even though millions of hungry people of all ages, races, and conditions in life are depending on it to get through a day, a week or a month.