FACT CHECK: Gingrich's food-stamp claim

2:59 AM, Jan 19, 2012   |    comments
Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at an event after the close of the Iowa caucus at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center on January 3, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
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   Sparks are still flying a week after GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called President Barack Obama the "best food stamp president in American history."

   But, was Gingrich correct?

   During a town hall meeting in Plymouth, New Hampshire last Thursday, Gingrich said "More people were on food stamps today because of Obama's policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history. ... And so I'm prepared if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."

   NAACP President Ben Jealous released a statement the next day, saying Gingrich's comments were 'in no way helpful to our country,"  adding that Gingrich declined several invitations to attend the NAACP convention when he was house speaker.

   So, who's right? We checked the facts.

   The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition service tracks month-to-month figures dating back to January 2001. The numbers show that the total of food stamp recipients rose to 14.2 million during President Obama's administration.

   The highest in history so far is President George W. Bush. The number of food stamp recipients grew to nearly 14.7 million while he was in office. But, that's eight years in office, compared to President Obama who has not finished his first term.

   The Ag Department's information also shows that 444,574 fewer recipients have signed up for food stamps under Obama's watch, than under Bush. But again, Bush spent eight years in office, as opposed to Obama's three.

   It's possible that when the figures for January 2012 are available they will show that the gain under Obama has matched or exceeded the gain under Bush. But not if the short-term trend continues. The number getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October. And the economy has improved since then.

   One out of seven Americans is currently getting food stamps, according to the Department of Agriculture.

   The figures also show the rise in food stamps began before Obama took office, and accelerated as the nation plunged into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

   The economic downturn began in December 2007. 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.

   So, who gets food stamps?

   The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP (food stamp) program's beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:


-- 47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.


-- 8% were age 60 or older.


-- 41% lived in a household with earnings from a job - the so-called "working poor."


-- The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.


-- 36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.


   But, the numbers don't show if the race-specific percentages are based on the number of people as a whole, or the number of people in that specific race who receive or do not receive food stamps.

   Our fact check results? The food stamp recipient growth grew to an historically high level under President Obama, beginning before he took office, but skyrocketing during his presidency. But, food stamp participation grew more under President Bush's two terms in office, than President Obama's one.  


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