Tonight NBC is hosting the GOP field for a debate (9pm eastern) in Tampa, Florida. I’ll be tweeting for some of it, but I’m assuming we will see much of the same obfuscating and sometimes nonsensical rhetoric. Given that Newt Gingrich won South Carolina two days ago, how likely are we to hear about our “food stamp president?” He has an interesting policy perspective on the program that I’ve written about as recently as last week- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “food stamps.”
Luckily the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a pretty good policy page for SNAP. Remember – Newt’s assertion is that, if invited by the NAACP, he would tell African-Americans they “should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” Which, incidentally, is a message he relays to all citizens that utilize SNAP. Either way such a message is somewhat irrelevant considering nearly half of all households with children* that receive SNAP benefits are “working households,” a trend that has increased markedly since the ’96 welfare reforms:
And one of the lesser bits of info thrown around in the discussion is how closely SNAP usage tracks poverty rates:
Which means that as more people get laid off, or are reduced from full-time to part-time workloads, more people become eligible for low-income programs like SNAP. It’s not rocket science, it’s what happens in a recession.
Look, I know he’s Newt. And Newt is…well, special. But the problem with our economy is not that SNAP beneficiaries are turning down jobs left and right because using an EBT card is so much better than earning a good paycheck. I know it dovetails well with his narrative that stagnant socioeconomic mobility at the bottom means we should repeal child-labor laws, but people aren’t earning good paychecks because A: there are not enough jobs to provide any type of paycheck in the first place and B: the jobs that do exist often don’t pay enough, or don’t offer enough hours to escape the federal poverty line. It is not because President Obama hasn’t embraced his rather odd tax plan. And let us not forget when it comes to the economic forces driving increased SNAP usage, it’s hard to solely blame the person that inherited this mess:
*Households with children who receive SNAP benefits account for 75% of total household usage. The elderly make up a majority of the rest.
**Bonus coverage of food stamp issue from Mike Konczal:
A common trope for conservative policy intellectuals is that they want to “means test” the welfare state – reduce its availability for those with high wealth and income and focus it on those with the least wealth and income. But the Tea Party base wants the opposite – they are opposed to a welfare state for the poor, young people, undocumented workers and other groups they think are undeserving. The welfare state is ok for people like themselves, but for people they think that don’t make the cut it should be a nonexistent or a burdensome affair.
***Bonus bonus coverage from David Dayen:
With Newt Gingrich throwing around the phrase “food stamp President” like he’s about to drop a new track featuring Kanye with that title, attention is starting to be paid to his claims. 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, mainly because of a change to encourage enrollment by state governments during his two terms, as well as the beginnings of the recession.