The Food Stamp President

Newt Gingrich has labeled President Obama the food stamp president. In last night’s South Carolina debate, Juan Williams, in an already-famous exchange, tried to push back on that characterization, unsuccessfully. “The fact is more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Gingrich told Williams. The White House apparently doesn’t like the association between Obama and food stamps; Jay Carney said that the claim that President Obama’s policies have added to the food stamp rolls is “crazy.”

As happens so often with White House statements, Carney’s characterization had no basis in fact. We wrote about the metastasizing food stamp program in Food Stamp Nation:

Food stamp use has exploded during the Obama administration, reaching an all-time high of 45.8 million in August. This chart, prepared by Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee, depicts the extraordinary growth in the program that began when Barack Obama took office in 2009:

That is right: federal spending on food stamps has doubled since George W. Bush left office. In large part, this is due to fraud–another emblem of the Obama administration. As Jeff Sessions said:

The agriculture bill we are considering this week…would result in a quadrupling of food stamp funds from their 2001 levels. At a proposed $80 billion a year, food stamps are becoming one of the largest items in our budget….

There is little if any oversight of the program, resulting in the extraordinary waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. … In some cases, the only thing you need to become food-stamp eligible is have a brochure from the federal government be sent to you in the mail. …

This program is not being run honestly, effectively, or fairly. It is deeply disappointing and extremely telling that the Democrat-led Senate voted down even this modest effort to address the almost shameless mishandling of taxpayer funds. We’re in a fiscal crisis that is already killing jobs, and these bills just increase spending—and destroy confidence—that much more.

Obama, of course, has done nothing to crack down on fraud or try to get a grip on food stamp spending. So, more recently, Sessions has again written to the Obama administration to ask for its cooperation in getting food stamp spending under control. You can read his letter here. An excerpt:

I am writing about widespread reports of fraud and abuse in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. At $89 billion, the annual food stamp budget is the largest of nearly eighty federal welfare programs that cost taxpayers around $900 billion a year. Following growing concern over lax oversight, the USDA recently issued a press release announcing “new tactics to combat fraud and enhance SNAP program integrity.”

While the weak economy has increased the number of people on food stamps, spending on the program has dramatically outpaced the rise in unemployment. … [A]ccording to research by University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan, most of the increased spending on welfare programs (including food stamps) since 2007 is the result of expansions of eligibility, rather than increases in the number of people who would have been eligible under pre-recession rules. …

Records released last month show a couple in Washington State living in a $1.2 million home but still receiving benefits; a Michigan lottery winner was allowed to continue receiving benefits after receiving a $2 million payout (that state also discovered 30,000 ineligible college students its food stamp rolls, later taking action to remove them); and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Wisconsin food stamp recipients routinely sell their benefit cards on Facebook.

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, I have a responsibility on behalf of taxpayers to hold federal agencies accountable for how public funds are being spent. I would therefore ask that the Committee be immediately provided with a thorough explanation of all oversight actions your Department is taking, as well as a list of recommended federal reforms that would reduce waste, inefficiency, and abuse in the food stamp program.

To my knowledge, the Obama administration has not yet responded to this request for accountability, but I will publicize any response the Department of Agriculture makes. In the meantime, was Gingrich correct in dubbing Barack Obama the food stamp president? Actually, Gingrich was being charitable: he could have called Obama the food stamp fraud president.

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