Sunday, 22 January 2012

Food stamp politics

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week responded to GOP presidential candidate New Gingrich's description of President Obama as the "food stamp President."Alan Bjerga and Jennifer Oldham at Bloomberg report:
Those who get the federal assistance “are playing by the rules,” Vilsack, whose department administers food stamps, said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “There are misconceptions about this program and confusion” about recipients caused by negative portrayals by some Obama opponents, he said.

Food-stamp use has increased 46 percent since December 2008, a month before Obama took office and when the economy was shedding jobs. Total spending has more than doubled in four years to an all-time high of $75.3 billion, a level called unsustainable by Republicans including Gingrich, who has labeled Obama “the best food-stamp president in American history.”

Gingrich’s characterization of Obama’s food stamp policies has drawn criticism from groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which issued a statement Jan. 6 calling his comments “inaccurate” and “divisive.”

Gingrich has dismissed the complaints as a smear from “modern liberals” who are “off the deep end.” 
In the article, David Greenberg at Rutgers University expresses doubt that Gingrich's talking point reflects bigotry, but notes, "he is no fool and this is going to be seen through a racial prism."  Later in the Bloomberg article, I comment about the history of bi-partisan agreement over the basic design of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps.  On the same theme, Rogers Smith of the University of Pennsylvania agrees that Gingrich's label is reminiscent of Reagan-era GOP rhetoric about "welfare queens," but unusual for food stamp policy discussions.

U.S. Food Policy earlier covered the unusually shrill anti-food stamp memes that have been circulating on the internet, including videos packed with racial stereotypes.  In response to that earlier post, we received an anonymous comment, stating that the military contractor KROQUE, which was mentioned in the coverage, disavows connection to or responsibility for the videos.

This issue will see renewed attention and discussion after former House Speaker Gingrich yesterday won the South Carolina GOP primary in a dramatic upset over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

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