One of the least-appreciated reasons for conservatives to dislike former President George W. Bush is that even while the unemployment rate was declining, the U.S. saw a massive increase in participation in the food-stamp programs (Women, Infants and Children, or WIC; and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). It’s quite accurate to refer, as the Washington Examiner recently did, to the “Great Bush-Obama food-stamp expansion.” But a recent article on the subject of food-stamp costs in National Review didn’t even mention Bush’s name. Firebrand Newt Gingrich, who has tirelessly focused attention on this topic, has been similarly negligent in omitting Bush from the picture.
Yet Obama has done much more than simply oversee an increase in participation.
Obama brings up Bush’s expansion when challenged about his food-stamp record — he has aggressively sought to blame his performance on his Republican predecessor. Here’s what he told ABC News when confronted on this issue:
First of all, I don’t put people on food stamps. People become eligible for food stamps. Second of all, the initial expansion of food-stamp eligibility happened under my Republican predecessor, not under me. No. 3, when you have a disastrous economic crash that results in eight million people losing their jobs, more people are going to need more support from government.
It’s stunning that the Romney campaign is allowing Obama to get away with not mentioning the costs that have no precedent whatsoever in Bush administration records or policy.
Under Obama, 14.7 million more Americans began using the food-stamp program than had been using it under Bush. That’s a whopping increase of 46%, from 31.9 million users in 2009 to 46.6 million today. One in every seven Americans. The WIC program now purchases over half of all infant formula sold in the United States.
But most importantly, the cost of the program to taxpayers has increased by far more than the expected, proportionate 46%.
Under eight years of George Bush, annual spending on food stamps rose from $15 billion to $35 billion — an increase of about $2.5 billion per year. But in just the first two years of the Obama administration alone, spending rose from $35 billion to $75 billion — a staggering increase of $20 billion per year, nearly ten times the rate of increase in cost under Bush.
The cost of food stamps under Obama rose from an average of $3.6 billion per month when he came to office to $6.2 billion per month now, a disproportional increase of 72% compared to the 46% increase in program usage. And even that figure is misleading because it is based on averages: the total cost of the program over Obama’s four years in office, as noted above, actually rose by well over 100%, now running in excess of $75 billion per year. If you compare 2007 and 2011, the total cost increase is an astounding 135%.
There are two possible explanations for the wildly disproportionate rise in food stamp costs under Obama: either he’s being much more generous with recipients than Bush ever dreamed of being, or food prices are rising because of his inflationary policies. Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office weighed in. They concluded that a combination of both factors was in play — but that Obama’s generosity (with taxpayer money) is the much bigger culprit.
In his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Obama increased the amount of value individual food-stamp users can take from the program by 13.6%, and relaxed eligibility requirements. The ARRA also provided hundreds of millions of dollars to states for administrative expenses connected with their implementation of the new benefits. Higher benefit amounts not only dramatically raised program costs, but — of course — also encouraged more American to access the program, creating a snowball effect.
So that is why food-stamp program costs have risen so dramatically and disproportionately under Obama: he has increased the benefits during a — his — prolonged economic stagnation, so that many more people want to take advantage of the much more generous benefits. Meanwhile, he has overseen rising food prices and gas prices (which contribute mightily to food transportation costs).
Worst of all, of course, is that Obama is borrowing the money to fund this scheme from our children, creating unprecedented levels of national debt.