The GOP presidential candidates are becoming more comfortable trafficking in stereotypes when it comes to African-Americans and welfare benefits. Surprise Iowa frontrunner Rick Santorum recently declared (and later denied) that “I don’t 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.” The NAACP blasted Santorum for “inaccurate and outrageous” remarks that “lifts up old race-based stereotypes about public assistance.”
Today in New Hampshire, another GOP presidential hopeful offered his own take. Consistently slamming President Obama as “the best food stamp president in history,” Newt Gingrich tried to paint himself as a more desirable alternative to town hall attendees, insisting he’d be “the best paycheck president in American history.” Singling out African-Americans, Gingrich declared that he’d attend the NAACP just to tell African-Americans why they should “not be satisfied with food stamps”:
GINGRICH: More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history. Now, there’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, “Would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks,” you wouldn’t [SIC] end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck.
And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which should be particularly good for African-American males — because they’re the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span.
Not only is his perception of food stamp beneficiaries prejudicial, it’s false. The majority of people who participate in the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are white. Most of the participants are also either children (who can’t earn a paycheck unless Gingrich gets his way) or seniors who are of retirement age. In 2010, working-women represented only 28 percent of SNAP beneficiaries, and working-age men represented only 17 percent.
What’s more, an increasing number of SNAP beneficiaries actually do have jobs and receive paychecks that are the primary source of their income. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of those incomes are above the poverty line. Thus, SNAP benefits provide a necessary safety net to families trying to stay afloat in a sluggish economy. But rather than seeing America’s most vulnerable populations as deserving of aid, Gingrich prefers to see them as lazy drug-users who prefer to put their benefits towards a Hawaii vacation.