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Newt Gingrich's Labeling of Obama as America's Food Stamp President: Facts and Figures about Public Assistance in the United States

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--

By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published January 31st, 2012

Dateline: Monday, January 19, 2012.
Event: Republican Presidential Primary Debate showdown.
Venue: Charleston, South Carolina.
Participants: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.
Moderator: Juan William, CNN Senior Analyst.

Issue: Newt Gingrich, revolutionary and petulant former Speaker of the US House of Representatives and presidential candidate in the Republican presidential primaries was asked a question by Fox News senior analyst and debate moderator, Juan William, about certain unsavory comments credited to him in the media to the effect: (1) that black kids have no job role models in their families presumably since they are mostly on welfare rolls and, as such, black kids would be better served if they were made to work as school janitors to clean and scrub floors and toilets to enable them imbibe work ethics as their white counterparts and; the clincher, (2) that President Barack Obama is a “food stamp president.”

What was his response under the full glare of network television cameras with their signals beamed directly to American homes; in particular, African-Americans, prime time? Gingrich not only stood solidly and un-apologetically by his comments, but further elaborated on them that Obama has presided over the largest food stamps expansion program more than any other president in US history, demanding forcefully that blacks should “demand jobs, not food stamps”, from President Obama. And as if that was not enough he beat on the moderator for daring to take him to task on his comments—a tried and tested tactic he employed against CNN anchorman and moderator in the second debate in South Carolina, John King, that literally enabled Gingrich to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

With that singular answer Gingrich was able to revive his dead campaign (he was at the bottom in two previous primaries in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire), as the largely conservative crowd roared with a huge applause that almost brought the ceiling down. While these and other incendiary comments and media bashing may have helped to galvanize enormous Republican primaries support for Newt Gingrich, however, and may have helped him achieve his decisive victory over national frontrunner former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in South Carolina's Saturday primary, they have equally caused public outrage particularly amongst African-Americans who view his comments as not only condescending, but blatantly racist and willfully misleading.

For starters, why single out blacks to “demand jobs, not food stamps” from Obama? Which begs the question: Are blacks the only racial groups in the United States benefiting from food stamps and other public assistance programs in the US? Is food stamp program for blacks and blacks alone? If yes, his singling out of blacks would be in order. If no, he has some explaining to do for picking on blacks and no other racial groups in the US. Why did he not mention whites, his own race, or Hispanics, Asiatic, native Indians, and other racial groups in the US that are equally benefiting from these or similar programs?

But first let's look at the numbers. How much dollar amount is involved in these programs and where is their funding coming from? In other words, who pays for these programs ultimately? These questions are important because their answers will show to us how much in dollar terms is being committed to these programs and its impact on the budget and those bearing the brunt of these programs in real terms.

In the 2011 fiscal year, the congressional Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimated that 43%, amounting to $730 billion of the $1.47 trillion national budget would be spent on “entitlement programs” generally known as public assistance, which is officially defined as “entitlement programs funded through taxes”, involving “direct benefit payments for individuals”. This invariably means that funding for these programs is coming directly from deductions from tax payers’ salaries and wages, capital gains tax, estate tax and other forms of taxes directing impacting the citizens of the United States in their pockets, lowering the quality of their lives to fund others. People who can barely survive on their incomes are being asked to bear the brunt of the upkeep of others.

If you have lived in or currently living in the United States and working you know that is the case going by the huge deductions coming from your paychecks every pay week. In other words, working Americans are the ones paying for these government entitlement programs running into hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The implication of this is that the United States government is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul by compelling working Americans to part with their hard earned incomes for the upkeep of non-working and unproductive Americans, albeit with the government taking all the credits. When we think about food stamps and other entitlement programs it is the government not the citizens that comes to mind as the provider of these entitlements whereas the funding is actually coming from the citizens. And when politicians campaign on the expansion of these programs to benefit more Americans as President Obama did in his state of the union address and still doing in campaign stumps, he is, in effect, saying that he will commit American tax payers more and more to the funding of these programs.

In this regard we must come to full recognition of the fact that government itself cannot fund itself let alone being anyone else' Father Christmas but must of utmost necessity rely on the toil and sweat of the citizenry to exist and thrive to perform the traditional roles assigned to it. But no more! Sure enough, it could print currency when push comes to shove as the US Federal Reserve has been doing lately in its so-called “quantitative easing” policy to fund government's operations, but that expedient comes with a huge risk of destroying not only the currency but the economy itself in the long run. Bottom line therefore, is that it is the citizens, individual and corporate, that fund governments. But it is not just citizens in general, but productive, hard working segment of the citizenry that foots the bill on behalf of society as a whole. The incidents of taxation falls on only the working and entrepreneur class leaving out the unproductive class, which nevertheless enjoys the benefits of social services provided by the government on equal terms.

This might sound unfair but it is the reality in modern societies in contradistinction to traditional societies where the basic family social unit was self-sustaining and self-regenerating in traditional economic settings and only received assistance during misfortunes or calamitous happenstances. Thus the 20th century nanny-state invention that has led to vast expansion of the role of government which Europe had become maintained through a combination of heavy taxation of its working class and heavy borrowing from the capital markets through government T-Bonds, was completely alien and even unthinkable as many things these days (including, but not limited to the so-called, wholly artificial newest western invention of same-sex marriage) in traditional societies. But as we have seen lately, all of these man-made social contraptions are rapidly falling apart in Europe and will definitely spread to other parts of the world because they are entirely artificial rooted neither in traditions nor in commonsense. It is the duty of families not governments to provide for needy members of their families. Therefore, it is the family that must be strengthened not individuals trying to live off the backs of others. In other words, the artificial social engineering that we have been stuck with by liberals should and must be reversed to enable the world return to its centuries-old traditional value system that had sustained humanity for eons.

The liberal proposition which states that the state rather than heads of families should assume the role of family bread winners for individual families in poverty does not appear to me as the smartest idea of building poor families but the very negation of the family institution itself and the ultimate destruction of society as we know it. Whether we appreciate it or not government’s monthly welfare handouts to poor families on welfare rolls not only reduces the self-esteem of the individual beneficiaries but amounts to assuming the role of family bread winners making such families to be wholly dependent on government ultimately breeding an attitude of social entitlements.  So, in the name of helping the poor government is wittingly or unwittingly actually hurting the poor by making them dependent on government in perpetuity. This is what has led to the phenomenon of “welfare moms” who are raising welfare kids at the expense of others. It is also responsible at least in part to the high rate of matrimonial attrition in the United States. What does a woman need a husband for when the government has taken the place of the husband? The high rate of divorce in the United States is directly correlated to the welfare system and government virtual takeover of welfare families. 

It would be all well and good if government had assumed that role without raiding the bank accounts of hard working citizens to fund it. And it wouldn’t matter much in good economic times when working citizens could afford to dole out part of their incomes for charitable curses including of course helping the poor. But it is a different ball game altogether in bad economic times when citizens are barely scrapping by. To have the government come in to ambush working citizens’ paychecks just to enable it play Father Christmas for others is asking for too much and would definitely produce the kind of resistance we have seen from a segment of the US population on issues of taxation.   

Now if you are working and between 15-35% of your payroll weekly, bi-weekly or monthly salary, wage, or income from some other source is being routinely confiscated by the government to help meet its entitlement programs for unemployed and needy citizens, you would be a little uncomfortable with that, to put it mildly, and might even be outright hostile to that idea altogether, because you're being robbed of your own entitlement that you have earned from your own sweat. That precisely is what is happening here. While millions of Americans would like to pitch in something to help their less unfortunate compatriots as can be seen in their charitable activities, there is high reservoir of animus and angst seething below the surface against people on welfare who are derided as being lazy and not willing to really work themselves out of welfare even in times of greater economic opportunities, as for example, during the Clinton era. 

Working Americans are not entirely happy with their high taxes and the idea of having to part with huge chunks of their paychecks to feed, clothe and medicate others in perpetuity is repugnant to natural justice. And that's why the President GW Bush's era payroll tax cuts, which had expired twice had been renewed twice under the Obama administration because it is hugely popular that even the “tax and spend” Democrats and the Obama administration are wary of gutting it as doing so would be a certain kiss of death for their re-election. By the way, it is due to expire again next month, February, and I am confident it will be renewed by the US Congress yet again and perhaps made permanent if Obama gets his way from Congress to tax the wealthy more—an idea that is out and out staunchly resisted by Republicans as a no-go area. They have pretty much drawn the line in the sand.

Let's face it because in the end this is after all bread and butter issue for millions of hard working but struggling families dubbed the “working poor” by the media. Who wants to have the government confiscate a third, quarter, or half of his/her entire wages or salaries, as the case may be, in the name of helping fellow citizens in need when he or she could do with some help, too, in these hard times? Few people are able or willing to do that when we factor in the fact that they can't or barely meet their monthly house rents, home mortgage payments, student and car loans, and monthly utility bills, just to mention but a few, and that is only natural.

And this is what is feeding the resentment against public assistance and welfare recipients, which explains the standing ovation Gingrich received at the debate when he labeled Obama “food stamp president” and urged blacks to “demand jobs not food stamps” from Obama.

The issue, however, is why single out African-Americans for attacks or advice, if you like?  And this takes us back to the question as to whether it is blacks alone whose lives are being subsidized by American tax payers? Answering these questions lead inevitably to the larger question of poverty in America and its impact on African-Americans and other minority groups in the US. According to available 1990 data from National Bureau of Statistics 61% of welfare recipients are whites compared to 33% for blacks. This is the overall figure not the particular or individual programs that spot different characteristics. Looking at this general picture however on face value, blacks are obviously getting way less; in fact, only about half than whites in public assistance. When we drill down to individual programs, however, we find that 37.2% blacks are on food stamps program compared to 46.2% whites. Here again whites are getting far more food stamps benefits, in fact about double more than blacks. And for Medicaid beneficiaries, blacks account for 27.5% compared to 48.5% whites. Yet again whites outnumber blacks as beneficiaries. When it comes to another category of “Aid to Families with Dependent Children” (AFDC), however, the tables are turned as 39.7% goes to the black, single mother families below the poverty line compared to 38.1% for their white counterparts. This category is for single mother families with children. However, in a nation with 51% unmarried adults unmarried according to the latest Pew Research findings and high rate of divorce, single mother families in poverty constitute a huge chunk of the population going for public assistance to survive. 

The real issue, however, is that blacks make up far lesser percentage, in fact, just 13% of the entire US population compared to 63.7% of non-Hispanic whites, according to statistics from the 2010 US Census Bureau. This the real question though: If blacks who make up only 13% of the US population accounts for 33% of all welfare recipients, it shows conclusively that blacks are disproportionately benefiting from welfare programs way more than whites in real terms. And since Obama, a black president, has been the one pushing hard for the extension of entitlement programs, it is clear why the white conservatives are picking on blacks to vilify rather than white welfare recipients. Obama's push for entitlement programs is being seen rightly or wrongly as an attempt to help black folks get by on the cheap at the expense of whites when in reality he is simply extending preexisting programs as a result of the harsh economic conditions that he inherited from the Bush administration that have not gotten terribly better under him as some whopping 16 million Americans are still out of work and must survive on something, including welfare.

This is even more so when we take into account the fact that while the general unemployment rate nationally is currently about 8.5%, it is 16% amongst blacks, which means more whites are working and therefore the ones disproportionately bearing the brunt of the welfare programs that are disproportionately benefiting more blacks than whites. However, it could be argued with some merits at least that blacks are disproportionately getting more welfare benefits than whites because blacks disproportionately live in poverty than whites the same way blacks are disproportionately more in US prisons than whites. Perhaps there is some correlation between both categories—more blacks receiving welfare because more blacks are in prison, jobless and therefore in poverty. It's basically a case of the chicken and the egg. These programs predate the Obama administration. Therefore it would be patently unfair to label him “food stamp president” just because he is extending them during bad economic times. 

The real issue is this: If blacks disproportionately live in poverty than whites should they be allowed to die in poverty or get some help from somewhere including the government even if the real funding is coming from the citizens? There are no clear cut answers to this question. While some think that they should get help others are of the view that it is not the business of government to do so. And there are those who hold the view that poor and unemployed blacks are not exerting themselves nearly enough to get out of poverty like their white counterparts and have come to rely heavily on welfare programs as their traditional entitlements rather than getting off the welfare rolls. Rightly or wrongly, blacks are being tied to welfare rolls and they seem to relish the labels as any attempt to reform welfare is met with resistance from black and minority communities. This thinking led to the Clinton era welfare reforms that limit welfare entitlements and compels recipients to look for jobs (from welfare to work), as contained in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, or get off the welfare rolls altogether within certain prescribed time frames. The overall objective of this Act is to encourage work not welfare amongst the citizenry in general not just blacks in order to make people less dependent on government handouts to live their lives.  A valid case can therefore be made for rethinking these programs that have outlived their usefulness because they are promoting a culture of dependency on the part of the beneficiaries, especially African Americans. This is what has pitted conservative Republicans, who want to gut the programs against liberal Democrats, who want to keep and expand them.   

All of this leads inexorably to the age-old question regarding the role of government in society. The traditional role of government is to maintain law and order and protect lives and properties. It has nothing to do with feeding, medicating and clothing the poor and unemployed. Over the decades, however, this role has been vastly expanded to include social programs for the poor, aged, and unemployed. However, the deliberate expansion of the role of government beyond its traditional province to encompass such social programs meant that it must forage for adequate financial, technical and bureaucratic resources to meet the sundry needs of the needy since government is never in any position to provide for those needs on its own depending itself as it does on funding from working citizens through taxation. To whom then does government turn for such resources? The answer is to the working, productive segment of the society to, in effect, bankroll the nanny state not as some beggarly mendicant meekly pleading for alms from benevolent, compassionate compatriots, but as a virtual armed robber hijacking the salaries and wages of hardworking citizens at source at will, leaving barely enough for them to survive till the next day and bring them back to work to repeat the endless cycle. This situation has compelled many people not to work harder since the more income you make the more you lose it to Uncle Sam in taxes.

The whole purpose of government now seems firmly rooted in the notion of wealth redistribution as then candidate Obama said to “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 presidential election campaigns, rather than wealth recreation. And this populist mantra has become a powerful magnet to fortune seekers who have invaded and continue to invade the corridors of power in desperate attempts to lay their hands on the milk cow for redistribution of its milk to whoever tickles their fancies. Redistribution of wealth is now being corruptly used by politicians to get themselves into power. They are ridding on the backs of the poor to power and leave them in poverty when they leave power to come another day. But the overarching question is, whose wealth are they itching to redistribute? Hard working Americans are saying to Obama and his tax and spend Democrats, “Not my hard earned income!” Hell no! This is the whole basis of the Tea-Party movement that upended the Democrats in the 2010 midterm congressional elections that had caused the Democrats to lose the US House of Representatives. It was directed not just against Democrats but against Republicans, too, who went with Obama for big government.

It is, therefore, fitting to state in conclusion that the long term solution to the economic and social problems besetting humanity, particularly the west lay not in expanding the role of governments by creating an avalanche of social programs and entitlements but in returning us to our traditional values of individual social responsibility, and that was why President Clinton titled his welfare reform legislation “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act”. Now that speaks volumes. Doesn't it? It seems that the west has learned its lessons the hard way. Or hasn't it? Developing countries in Africa should take appropriate lessons from this, particularly Nigeria.



Franklin Otorofani is an attorney and public affairs analyst.


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