When Newt Gingrich derided President Obama as “the food stamp president,” he was using the same old GOP race-baiting tactics that brought us Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and Willy Horton.
But he also revealed something unintentional about his already imploding candidacy: Gingrich is absolutely clueless when it comes to the economic reality of 44 million Americans who feed their families with the help of the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, food stamps (or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Two years into a so-called “recovery,” a record number of Americans—one in seven—receive food stamps. That’s because the program is designed to respond to economic downturns and increased hardship. And that’s exactly what it’s done. It’s one of the last remaining (and relatively strong) threads in our tattered and torn safety net—the same net which Republicans would gladly put through the shredder.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes, between December 2007 and December 2009 the number of unemployed workers doubled, and the number of workers out of a job for more than six months but still looking nearly quadrupled. SNAP caseloads rightly increased by 45 percent. (In contrast, TANF cash assistance caseloads increased just 13 percent, since it’s subject to the whims of states’ restrictive eligibility requirements thanks to Gingrich-Clinton welfare reform.)
Part of the reason SNAP is so effective is that its federal eligibility rules are largely uniform across the nation so benefits are available to most households with low incomes. So who does Gingrich think those families turning to SNAP to stave off hunger are exactly? Here’s a cheat sheet—perhaps he can make use of it as he attempts to save his flailing campaign:
More than 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; and nearly one-third are in households with elderly people or people with disabilities. Over 34 percent of household heads are white, 21 percent African American, and less than 10 percent Hispanic. And the people receiving the benefits are exactly the people who really need them—over 90 percent have incomes below the poverty line, and 40 percent have incomes below half the poverty line (or “deep poverty,” just $9,155 for a family of three.) Finally, nearly three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on welfare benefits for their income.