Back during the Republican primaries, liberals accused Newt Gingrich of racism for pointing out that more people were receiving food stamps under Barack Obama’s presidency than ever before. But as a report from CNN shows, though spending on food stamps has doubled since the end of 2008 and more than one in seven Americans are now receiving them, the administration says that isn’t enough. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is running radio ads targeting Hispanics, the elderly and the poor encouraging those who aren’t already participating to sign up.
The USDA believes that despite the massive increase in spending on food stamps that was authorized as part of President Obama’s stimulus act, many more people who are legally eligible for assistance are not getting them, prompting the government recruitment campaign. While this can be represented as an attempt to help the poor, it is also an indication that the government’s focus is on increasing dependency and not on helping people to become self-sufficient. The push to spend more on food stamps made possible by the stimulus is making it look like Gingrich was right.
Liberals portrayed the food stamps controversy as a diversion from more important economic issues on Gingrich’s part last winter as well as a racist “dog whistle” argument in which he was accused of trying to link President Obama to African-American poverty. But the expansion of entitlements in the last four years is no illusion.
Obama’s defenders can rightly point to the fact that the Bush administration also used advertisements to recruit more food stamps recipients. They can also note that some of the increase is due to the rise in need as the result of the economic downturn from which the country has yet to recover. But the huge increase in spending on food stamps is just part of the expansion of government spending on entitlements under this administration. Moreover, at a time when the debt is spiraling out of control as a result of entitlement spending, the spectacle of the government trying to entice more citizens to get on the dole is appalling.
While Bill Clinton, the last Democrat to sit in the White House before Obama, is remembered for signing a welfare reform act (passed by a Republican Congress over his objections) that began a historic shift away from welfare dependency, President Obama deserves the opprobrium that should attach to his efforts to reverse that trend. When the stimulus boondoggle was passed few noticed that it contained language that would allow more people to get on food stamps, especially childless and healthy unemployed adults as well as increasing the amount given away.
The Democrats have fiercely resisted Republican efforts to change the way food stamps are funded. The GOP wants to emulate the welfare reform act and send the program to the states as a block grant that would make it more accountable on the local level and decrease the power of the federal government as well as spending.
But however the money is allocated, there is no question that food stamps have become a symbol not of GOP racism but the Obama administration’s push for more dependency. Though Republicans are accused of being heartless, the result of this thralldom to the welfare state hurts the poor as well as the country.