Today, the Right Side News reported that “an astonishing number of people collecting public benefits long term, especially food stamps” and that “Judicial Watch has reported in the past how out of control the government’s food stamp program has gotten under President Obama and the fraud and corruption that’s plagued it.” The story takes on a tone that Obama’s policies have been the largest, if not sole, drive of the increased enrollment and expenditures of the food stamp program, but the statistics and data do not support the hyperbole.
Briefly, here are the story’s main points, and rebuttals.
1.) The program has exploded with a record number of people-46 million and growing-getting free groceries from Uncle Sam.
This is true. Food stamp usage has reached a record number of people. But what is curious about the article is its introduction, “how out of control the government’s food stamp program has gotten under President Obama”, would have one believe that the record is somehow solely the result of Obama’s policies and not, possibly, some larger issue. Now, for the stats.
When Obama took office in Jan. 2009, there were 28.2 million people receiving food stamps, and through last month there are now 46 million, an increase of 64%. When Bush took office, there were 17.3 million people on food stamps, and 28.2 million when he left, an increase of 63%.
There are three things to thresh from this. First, Obama still has four more years to go, and, despite the predictions that there will be a downturn in food stamp usage, the 46 million number is likely to increase and push the 64% number higher. Two, the total number increase has been much larger over the past four years (18 million) than the preceding 8 years (11 million), meaning the commensurate percentage increases do not accurate tell the entire picture. Third, and most importantly, since the beginning of 2001, the number of people on food stamps has increased by 170%.
This 12 year increase is an indication that through two different presidencies, with different economic policies, we have seen a spike in enrollment in the food stamp program. What does that mean? I am not going to attempt to thresh through that mess, but it does indicate that a larger issue is at play here than the policies of one Barack Hussein Obama.
(Also, in this is a little trite, but under Bush and Clinton before him the food-stamp program had ‘exploded’ with record enrollment. In fact, if Obama had increased the inherited number by just one on his first day of office, he would have ‘set the record’, as would have Bush, and so on.)
2.) [I]n fiscal year 2012 it spent a record $80.4 billion on food stamps. That’s a whopping $2.7 billion increase from the previous fiscal year!
Again, true, but that is only a 3.3% increase from 2011. Overall inflation for 2012 was estimated at 1.8%, spurred on by food at home and food away from home prices increasing by 1.3% and 2.6%, respectively. As a result, to keep pace with food prices, we could have expected an increase in food stamp payments in the range of $1.01 billion and $2.01 billion. In short, this is not necessarily “whopping” in the context of an $80 billion program within a $3 trillion budget (spit-balling on that figure).
(However, to stay on the issue of food prices, we should be holding Obama’s feet to flame with the absurdity known as the Ethanol Mandate. For more on the wonders of government energy policy (and now I upset the left).)
3.) In 2009 the tab was $55.6 billion and by 2010 it skyrocketed to around $70.5 billion.
Again true, but the issue is where was Obama the sole cause of this? As reported by the Daily Caller, according to a CBO report examining the increased enrollment of the food stamp program between 2007 and 2011, “CBO blamed three factors for the program’s expansion. They attribute 65 percent of the growth to a weak economy, 20 percent to temporarily higher benefit amounts resulting from Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and 15 percent on other factors such as food prices.”
Now, to parse out what is Obama’s fault as far as food prices and the meager economic recovery would take someone with a far better economic acumen than I.
4.) Out-of-control government programs like this are always vulnerable to fraud and corruption and we’ve already seen evidence that it has struck this one… [l]ast spring the USDA Inspector General revealed that many food-stamp recipients use their welfare benefit to buy drugs, weapons and other contraband from unscrupulous vendors. Some trade food stamps for reduced amounts of cash. The fraud has cost taxpayers nearly $200 million.
Again, true, but $200 million for a program that doles out $80 billion is not evidence of rampant corruption and fraud. It’s 0.25%. Yes, the issue should be addressed and the fraud eliminated. But if you want to talk about issues of waste, let’s look at the issue of college students on food stamps, which cost the state of Michigan $75 million, Virginia $30 million, and is actually advertised to college students by schools and legal service agencies.
5.) Adding insult to injury, a federal audit revealed last year that many who don’t qualify for food stamps receive them under a special “broad-based” eligibility program that disregards income and asset requirements. This is sticking American taxpayers with a multi-million-dollar tab to feed hundreds of thousands of people who can well afford to feed themselves.
The report the story is referring to is from the GAO, which reported that in 2010, 473,000 households were enrolled in the program that otherwise would not have been eligible if not for the “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which was implemented by Obama. That 473,000 figure amounted to 2.6% of total program enrollment, and total program payments ($460 million) amounted to just 0.65% of total payments because BBCE eligible households “received an estimated average monthly SNAP benefit of $81 compared to $293 for other households.”
Moreover, the statement that the “thousands of people who can well afford to feed themselves” is quite misleading. According to a CRS report, in FY2010, only 2.8% of households without a disabled or elderly person had an income exceeding 130% of poverty. To get an understanding of what 130% of poverty looks like:
Family of 2–$18,941
Family of 3–$23,803
Family of 4–$28,665
Family of 5–$33,527
None of this is meant to support the Obama expansion of the food-stamp program, minimize government waste or fraud, or to otherwise exculpate the current Administration for its failed policies and actions (Benghazi, military intervention in Libya, Ethanol Mandate, handling of the fiscal cliff, Fast and Furious and subsequent claiming of Executive Privilege, don’t get me started on the re-authorization of FISA, etc.). Nor does it deflect the need for some type of welfare reform.
Rather, it is meant to highlight the fact that hyperbole in political discourse, as exemplified in the Right Side News’ story, is inimical to working towards resolution. It is easy to target certain politicians (see George W. Bush) and heap all blame onto them. That is fine until they are out of office and the problems we laid at their feet persist. In the case of Obama, if we blame him for the expansion of the food-stamp program, and believe that the issue is not more systemic, what will we do and who will we blame in 2020 and the food-stamp program has over 60 million enrolled and costs us north of $100 billion? Obama? He’ll probably be on book tour by then.