Last week we learned that Newt Gingrich has a plan to fire union janitors in schools, and replace them with low income students. As Laura Clawson wrote about a speech he made in Iowa yesterday where he's still beating that same drum. Poor kids don't have any work ethic. Rich kids, apparently, have worked darned hard to get everything handed to them.
In that same speech in Iowa, Newt made some bizarre assertions about food stamps, including the statement one could use food stamps to fly to Hawaii. The folks at Politifact decided to investigate his claims:
"Remember, this is the best food stamp president in history. So more Americans today get food stamps than before. And we now give it away as cash -- you don't get food stamps. You get a credit card, and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. They give food stamps now to millionaires because, after all, don't you want to be compassionate? You know, the Obama model: isn't there somebody you'd like to give money to this week. That's why we're now going to help bailout Italy because we haven't bailed out enough people this week, the president thought let's write another check. After all, we have so much extra money."
Can food stamps "be used for anything"?
No. The food stamp program -- which, we should point out, has officially been known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, since October 2008 -- has very precise rules about what can and cannot be paid for.
Gingrich is partly right when he says that today, "you don't get food stamps. You get a credit card." The old system of using coupons is past; recipients now receive what’s called an electronic benefits transfer card, or EBT card. This looks like a credit card, but it doesn’t allow for purchases on credit. It’s really more like a debit card, with the government periodically uploading the proper amount of cash.
The cards cut way down on administrative costs, and streamline the process. The card also helps to cut back on the stigma of using food stamps in the checkout line at the supermarket.
"We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii."
If the food stamp system bars beneficiaries from buying decorative gourds rather than pumpkins, you can be sure it also bars the purchase of airline tickets. (Our guess: The benefit amount would be less than the tickets anyway.)
and his final outrageous claim:
"They give food stamps now to millionaires."
Food stamps have always been a means-tested program. Benefits vary by household size -- the full details are here -- but the national rule is that you can’t earn more than 130 percent of the poverty line. That would clearly rule out millionaires.
Politifact finds each of his claims to be utterly ridiculous.
A quick online search for a round trip flight to Hawaii from NH found the cheapest flight was $1035. According to
The average food stamp benefit was $133.80 per person and $283.65 per household in May.
That's May 2011. In order to save up for that trip to Hawaii, I'd have to go hungry for seven months. And even then, I still wouldn't be able to use my SNAP card to pay for the flight.
It's nice of Newt to leave Planet 1% to visit the rest of us, but he certainly lacks even a basic sense of reality of what life is like for those of us who don't have revolving charge accounts at Tiffany's. Perhaps we can buy breakfast there with food stamps.
cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org