For this election, Gingrich has clearly decided to roll with tagging Barack Obama with the epithet “The Food Stamp President” referring to increased enrollment in the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” commonly known as “food stamps.” The purpose of this is to prey upon the stereotype of “food stamps” as “welfare” and consequently implant in the minds of voters the image of Obama as catering to those on welfare, including the racial stereotypes that go along with that. And Gingrich has been successful, with Fox News joining the chorus.
The problem with Gingrich’s favorite epithet for Obama is that it’s untrue. President Bush added 14.7 million people to the food stamps program, while President Obama’s administration has only seen an addition of 14.2 million to the program. Right-leaning blogs have focused on the logical pressure point that there is something to be said for nearly as many people joining the program in the last 4 years as in the preceding 8, except they ignore the fact that enrollment in the food stamps program has actually declined since October, and will continue to do so as the economy continues to improve, suggesting that Obama’s final numbers will end up much better than they look now.
But moreover, the food stamps program is not like “welfare.” As opposed to traditional welfare or unemployment benefits, which can arguably provide a disincentive to an individual moving off government dependency and into the workforce (temporarily or permanently), food stamp benefits are awarded based upon income on a “sliding scale,” meaning that the more income made by a household comes with a corresponding drop in benefits rather than a clean break that could make finding work unattractive. This demonstrates the disingenuousness of Gingrich’s attacks because given that the program provides no disincentive to work, there is nothing to attacking the program beyond its rhetorical appeal as bait for other prejudices.
And the food stamps program has one final thing going for it — it actually makes money for the country. That’s right, rather than being a “drain” or a “hand-out,” food stamps make about $1.84 for every $1 spent because it provides money that cannot be spent on anything but spurring agriculture and retail. This is based upon a 2002 Bush administration study finding that “Ultimately, the additional $5 billion of FSP (Food Stamp Program) expenditures triggered an increase in total economic activity (production, sales, and value of shipments) of $9.2 billion and an increase in jobs of 82,100,” or $1.84 stimulus for every dollar spent.”