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Monday, January 23, 2012

"The Food Stamp Speaker"

If you look into why food stamp enrollment has increased so much during the recession, it turns out that Newt Gingrich played a key role. This is from David Dayen at FDL:

The “Food Stamp Speaker” is Actually Newt Gingrich, by David Dayen: ...Gingrich never tires of calling Barack Obama a food stamp President, saying that the food stamp rolls increased by the highest amount in history under this Administration. As a technical matter, this is not true. George W. Bush actually put more people on food stamps than any President in American history... But that doesn’t totally get at who is responsible for the increase in food stamp benefits. ...
As Brooks Jackson points out, the economic downturn that began in December 2007 made 4.4 million Americans newly eligible for food stamp benefits. The Obama Adminstration included increased benefit levels in the 2009 stimulus... But there’s a reason that the food stamp program, or SNAP, became a vehicle for direct benefits to poor Americans. It can be traced back to a guy named Newt Gingrich.
In 1996, Gingrich succeeded as House Speaker in passing welfare “reform,” which decimated the welfare program, particularly its ability to respond during times of economic stress. ... The 1996 welfare reform made cuts to SNAP, most of which remain. But it’s still expandable during a downturn, unlike TANF. In 2010, 40% of single mothers received food stamps, while only 10% received TANF funds. And this is why SNAP costs increased by 102% during the Great Recession.
In other words, without the “end of welfare as we know it,” nobody would likely have become a food stamp President. ... I suppose the other option is to let the poor starve, which Gingrich must be advancing. But when he talks about “food stamp Presidents,” recognize that he’s responsible.
And he should be thrilled to take the credit! The US Department of Agriculture estimates that $1 spent on food stamps generates $1.79 for the economy, creating economic activity with one of the best multipliers of any federal program. Census data from 2011 shows that SNAP kept 5.1 million Americans out of poverty, including substantial numbers of women and children. It’s a great program... Almost all of the benefits get directly to people with a tiny administrative overhead.

This part is important:

Of course, whether or not SNAP is a good program has little to do with the racial overtones of Gingrich’s remarks. He and his allies can object all they want, but he clearly is painting a picture of a “food stamp king” as a mirror to Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens.” This is ridiculous, primarily because the plurality of food stamp beneficiaries – 36% – are white. ...

I'm not sure what Newt is supposed to get credit for here. He squeezed the balloon at one end -- cutting welfare as we knew it -- and is disappointed that it inflated somewhere else. As he makes clear, he is not at all pleased that the people kicked off of welfare have been able to find a way to eat through food stamps. If he gets the chance, he'll fix that.

Finally, I have to add that it's pretty disappointing that the press will not go after Newt (or anyone else on the right) for the clear racial undertones of his remarks on this and other issues. Newt and his followers believe that most of our problems can be blamed on poor minorities and the government's attempt to help them -- if the poor only had Newt's morals (ahem) they wouldn't have these problems -- despite very clear evidence to the contrary. Admitting the truth about what caused our problems would mean placing blame on key powers within the conservative cabal, and it would require them to accept regulations and other restricitions on their ability to make unimaginably high profits. That is to be avoided at all costs.

    Posted by on Monday, January 23, 2012 at 10:56 AM in Economics, Politics, Social Insurance | Permalink  Comments (22)


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