The topic du jour in the Republican presidential race is food stamps.
Several of the candidates, the Associated Press reports, want the food stamp program ended and the money given to states instead:
Both Gingrich and Santorum faced criticism this week when they spoke of overhauling food stamps and other welfare programs by seeming to equate food stamp recipients and blacks. Gingrich said he would encourage blacks to demand paychecks, not food stamps, and Santorum said that he did not want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
It’s a strategy that might play well in New Hampshire, a state that — like Minnesota — has a comparatively small number of people on food stamps. But this map, produced by the Wall St. Journal in 2011, shows the risk of the issue. Particularly in the south and many battleground states, about 18 percent of the people are on food stamps.
Could the states run the food stamp operation better with block grants? Last year, the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle Tribune found that retailers are ripping off the program, largely because the states are terrible at monitoring it.
In New Hampshire, of the 883 stores that take food stamp cards, only 18 were disqualified from the program since 2006. The story was similar in Massachusetts, where just 228 of the 4,320 stores authorized to accept food stamps were disqualified. By 2009, 90 of those Massachusetts retailers were back on the list of authorized food stamp merchants and had collectively racked up more than $7 million in food stamp redemptions in that one year alone, records obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the $50 billion program, show.
“The biggest problem we have here in Massachusetts is that we can’t prosecute because there is no state statute,” said one Bay State investigator who has assisted federal agents in retailer investigations. “We couldn’t even bring a case against them.”