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By Willoughby Mariano May 24, 2011

Cain said food stamp program use up under Obama

With the fire of a Baptist preacher, Georgia’s newest presidential prospect warned a crowd of thousands that the country has gone astray under President Barack Obama.

"We have become a nation of crises," Republican Herman Cain shouted during his Saturday announcement at Centennial Olympic Park that he’s running for president.

"Look at the facts. Don’t listen to the rhetoric," he said. High gas prices. A rising national debt. High unemployment.

"Forty-seven million people on food stamps," Cain said. "That’s 14 million more than when the current occupant of the White House took over."  

Food stamps? your PolitiFact Georgia scribes wondered. What’s with Georgia Republicans and food stamps lately?

Last week, the state’s other presidential contender, Newt Gingrich, said Obama deserves to be called "the most successful food stamp president in American history" because "47 million Americans are on food stamps."

We ruled Gingrich’s statement Half True. For the most part, Gingrich got his facts straight but oversimplified who was to blame.

Cain, a former radio talk show host and Godfather’s Pizza CEO, urged the crowd at his rally to "look at the facts." PolitiFact Georgia is all to happy to oblige him.  

Food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, give certain low-income Americans vouchers to buy groceries.

The most recent data show roughly 44.2 million people received SNAP benefits in February, the most recent data available.

Cain’s numbers aren’t quite accurate, but he’s close. The number of recipients has topped 44 million since December, which means his estimate is about 7 percent too high.  

The number of beneficiaries has climbed every single month since Obama took office, despite signs of an improving economy. According to historical data, February’s count appears to be the highest in any month since the program was established in 1969.

Obama took office in January 2009. That month, nearly 32 million people received SNAP benefits. That means the number of food stamp recipients has increased by about 12.2 million since the start of his administration.

Cain placed the increase at 14 million, which is about 15 percent too high. Again, he’s close, but not quite right.

Whether Obama deserves the blame for the increase is far less clear.

The rise in food stamps is a direct consequence of the Great Recession, which started more than a year before Obama took office. Conservatives and liberals agree that Obama inherited a troubled economy. Whether SNAP usage would have been lower if Republicans won the presidency is impossible to tell.

The number of food stamp beneficiaries ticked upward under President George W. Bush because of policies that broadened eligibility for the program and more aggressive efforts to get eligible Americans to apply for benefits. These policies remained in place under Obama.
Another reason assigning blame is tough is that there is typically a lag between when the broader economy begins to recover and when SNAP usage declines. The monthly growth has slowed for the past three months, and it could start declining in a month or two.
Cain’s accusation against Obama was not as barbed as Gingrich’s, but he did lay the blame for food stamp usage at the president’s feet. We therefore give the presidential candidate a Mostly True. 

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Cain said food stamp program use up under Obama

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