Newt Gingrich, campaigning in Florida before the state’s GOP primary, accused Mitt Romney of preventing Jewish nursing home residents in Massachusetts from keeping kosher to save a few bucks.
"Gov. Romney cut off kosher meals for Jewish senior citizens who were on Medicaid to save $5 a day," Gingrich said in a speech in Tampa on Jan. 30, 2011. "For $5 a day, he said, no, you cannot follow your religious prescription."
The next day, as Florida voters headed to the polls, robocalls made an even bolder claim. Gingrich’s campaign confirmed it sent the call statewide Tuesday, though the candidate denied he had heard it.
"As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes," the robocall said, according to CNN. "Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher."
We wanted to know, did Romney "cut off kosher meals for Jewish senior citizens who were Medicaid beneficiaries to save $5 a day"?
Flashback to 2003
We asked Gingrich’s campaign for support for his claim. Spokesman Joe DeSantis pointed us to a New York Post article from Jan. 27, "Romney rapped for kosher cut."
Romney's campaign declined to comment on the specifics of the claim.
We dug deeper.
Romney was a brand-new governor in 2003 facing a $3 billion budget gap.
The year before he took office, a change in the state reimbursement formula for nursing homes removed extra funding for eight kosher homes, said Jeremy Burton, executive director for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.
One nursing home, the Coolidge House Nursing Care Center in Brookline, Mass., decided in November 2002 that it would have to close its kosher kitchen, the Jewish Advocate of Boston reported. Instead, it would bring in kosher meals from outside — bringing food over from a sister nursing home, catering meals or offering prepacked dishes.
Democratic lawmakers wanted to keep nursing homes’ kosher kitchens open. They asked for $600,000 in supplemental funding, an extra $5 a day per kosher diner.
"We in the Legislature felt that a nursing home resident that was observant was entitled to that, even in tight fiscal times," said Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, who helped work on the measure. "... People were definitely alarmed, and we took it very seriously."
Romney used his line-item veto to scratch the funding, writing that "it unnecessarily requires an increased rate for nursing facilities," the Jewish Advocate reported.
"I guess the governor at the time thought it was supplementary or an optional expense we couldn't afford," Balser told PolitiFact. "... "It was his intention to cut them off."
But Democrats, who held a majority in the Massachusetts Legislature, "overrode it quickly," Balser said. Nursing homes got their funding.
"It never came up again, that I'm aware of," Balser said.
Neither Burton nor Balser could confirm that any Jewish nursing home residents lost access to kosher food, nor did we find any other information suggesting that kosher meals were ever eliminated for the nursing home residents.
Gingrich claimed that as governor of Massachusetts, "Romney cut off kosher meals for Jewish senior citizens who were on Medicaid to save $5 a day."
It’s true that one Massachusetts nursing home said in 2002 that it would close its kosher kitchen. But that decision was made based on a state funding decision before Romney took office. And that nursing home still planned to offer kosher meals to its residents — just not from an in-house facility.
It’s also true that when lawmakers rallied to provide money to make sure nursing homes didn’t have to make that choice, Romney attempted to veto extra funding, saying it would boost nursing home rates. But his veto was quickly overridden. There's no evidence any senior citizens were denied kosher food.
We rate Gingrich’s claim Mostly False.
CQ Transcriptwire, Newt Gingrich remarks in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 30, 2012
Email interview with Joe DeSantis, spokesman for Newt Gingrich, Feb. 1, 2012
Email interview with Amanda Henneberg, spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, Feb. 1, 2012
Interview with Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Feb. 1, 2012
Interview with Massachusetts Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, Feb. 1, 2012
CNN Wire, "Gingrich denies knowledge of 'kosher' robocall," Jan. 31, 2012
National Journal, "Gingrich Denies Knowledge of Holocaust Robo-Call," Jan. 31, 2012
New York Post, "Romney rapped for kosher cut," Jan. 27, 2012
National Jewish Democratic Council, "Romney vetoed kosher food funding for Jewish nursing homes," Jan. 27, 2012
Commentary magazine,"Did Romney Eliminate Kosher Nursing Home Food as Governor?" Jan. 30, 2012
Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog, "Gingrich Camp Says It ‘Unfortunately’ Made Robocall," Jan. 31, 2012
POLITICO, "Newt slams Romney on killing kosher food under Medicaid," Jan. 30, 2012
POLITICO, "Romney's veto could hurt him with Jewish voters," Jan. 30, 2007, via Nexis
Jewish Advocate, "Public officials honored at reception," Feb. 5, 2004, via Nexis
Jewish Advocate, "Romney vetoes kosher funds," Dec. 11, 2003, via Nexis
Jewish Advocate, "Kosher services at nursing homes funded by Legislature," Dec. 4, 2003, via Nexis
Associated Press, "Lawmakers send lean state budget plan to Romney's desk," June 20, 2003, via Nexis
BusinessWest, "A condition: Critical: The health care industry takes on Romney’s budget," April 1, 2003, via Nexis
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