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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.” (Jackson 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.” (Hughes 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.” (Kurtzleben 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).
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