The politics of food stamps

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.”

  • Disco

    Of course they’re making food stamps an issue. It kills two birds with one stone:

    (1) it’s a diversion that helps avoid discussing difficult issues that pertain to spending like medicare and social security. We’re spending $50B on food stamps!!! (Never mind the trillion-dollar elephants behind the curtain.)

    (2) it helps them to demonize poor (black) people, which is a strategy that plays very well to the low-income voters that Republicans covet.

  • Disco

    Make that “low-information voters.” They don’t care about low-INCOME voters.

  • jon

    wasn’t there an article on news cut some ways back about 40-60% of people on welfare not even realizing they were on welfare when surveyed?

    Maybe attacking food stamp programs doesn’t disengage as many food stamp users as we’d think.

  • Sue

    Food stamps are a drop in the bucket compared to the blank check that the Department of Defense gets. If you review the Simpson Bowles report (as well as the talk that played on MPR by Senator Simpson) you will find out that the Department of Defense has absolutely no accounting and monitoring system. I am not talking about the money that we give to the troops. I am taking about the programs and contracts that continue to get money because of the politician’s relationship with those companies. Many of these programs are no longer necessary and out of date.

    So the only reason that politicians continue to bring up the issue of food stamps is race and division of the American public.

  • Jim Shapiro

    A budget is ultimately a moral document that outlines priorities.

    What can be said about someone who favors taking away food and education and healthcare from those in need,

    yet refuses to ask the wealthy to contribute their share to society?

    OK, it says that they’re more than likely a republican, but what else?

    If protection of the poor is left to the red, former slave states, a significant part this country will have a quality of life little better than that of the third world.

  • Bob

    I’m not offended by the GOP candidates talking about food stamps. After all, it’s an important issue.

    It’s when they bring race into the discussion is when I shake my head.

  • blue pony

    uhm the food stamps are for all peple they are for whites, blacks, asians,mexicans, and all other races so in many ways all of you are wrong about this

  • brenda

    “Eagle Tribune found that retailers are ripping off the program, largely because the states are terrible at monitoring it.”

    u m, like price gouging?

    Cub Foods?

  • Kim E

    I agree with blue pony. Plus, if food stamps can be counted with other welfare/public assistance programs, the majority of people on those programs are Caucasian, not Black/African-American, probably because Caucasians are still a majority in most states. However, African-American people may access public assistance in disproportionate numbers compared to their size in the population.