As GOP contender Newt Gingrich rides an unexpected surge in the polls, he’s drawing a lot of criticism for his comments deriding poor children for not working and suggesting they should take up janitorial positions at their own schools.
Attacking poor Americans who need government aid is a favorite pastime for Gingrich — in nearly every speech he attacks President Obama for being a “food stamp president.” He took his routine even further this week when he claimed that food stamp recipients use their government aid to take trips to Hawaii:
So more Americans now get food stamps therefore and we now give it away as cash,” Gingrich said of President Obama. “You don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything. We’ve had people take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii.”
The completely bogus claim earned Gingrich a rare “pants on fire” from PolitiFact:
Can food stamps “be used for anything”? No. The food stamp program… known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP…has very precise rules about what can and cannot be paid for.
According to the Agriculture Department, which runs SNAP, households can use benefits to buy groceries or to buy seeds and plants which produce food…in general, SNAP funds cannot be used for restaurant meals. Other types of foods and beverages cannot be paid for with SNAP funds, including beer, wine or liquor; vitamins; food that will be eaten in the store; or hot foods. [...]
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.
The average monthly SNAP benefit is less than $134 per person — not nearly enough to cover the cost of an airline ticket to Hawaii. So the suggestion that families that are struggling to feed themselves blow their food budget on a lavish tropical vacation is absurd on its face. Fraud in the food stamp program actually reached an all-time low in 2009. Gingrich’s comments were so ridiculous they prompted PolitiFact to wonder “whether he was really intending to be serious.”
It was a deeply ironic charge coming from a man whose own frequent vacations nearly destroyed his presidential campaign not so long ago. In June, Gingrich’s campaign staff quit en mass to protest his lengthy vacations with his wife and refusal to campaign seriously. Gingrich himself took a trip to Hawaii in August, ostensibly to campaign (in the most Democratic state in the nation).
Gingrich has even tried to turn his vacationing into an asset, claiming that he has a much better understanding of the European financial crisis thanks to a recent luxury cruise in Greece.