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By W. Gardner Selby June 3, 2015

Rick Perry says 1 in 5 U.S. children live in a family 'on food stamps'

Addressing Iowans, expected Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry said he’s optimistic about the country’s future once there’s a leadership change, even though Americans remain unemployed and children continue to be hungry.

"Now I understand there’s pessimism out there and there’s good reason for it," the former Texas governor said May 16, 2015. "One out of 10 Americans are out of a job or underemployed or just completely quit looking for a job. One out of five of our children live in a family that’s on food stamps. What did we have, 0.2 (percent) growth last month? That may be good enough for Barack Obama, it may be good enough for the Democrats, but it’s not good enough for me. I know America can do better."

Perry’s first couple of figures didn’t seem new to us. In April 2015, the federal government announced the economy had grown 0.2 percent in the year’s first quarter. And according to the government, 10.8 percent of the American workforce in April 2015 were unemployed, underemployed or wanting a job but not lately looking--compared to 12.3 percent a year before.

For this fact check, we wondered if one child in five lives in a family on food stamps, meaning government aid for buying groceries.

A note: paper food stamps have not existed for nearly a decade since Congress in 2008 required states to shift to plastic cards, like credit cards, that may be presented at checkout stands. The one-time Food Stamps Program is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (In January 2010, the Smithsonian acquired ye olden food stamps for possible exhibits, J.C. Dwyer, a Texas anti-hunger activist, pointed out to us.)

Perry’s backup

To our inquiry, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said Perry reached his statement based on a February 2015 U.S. Census Bureau press release stating the number of children receiving SNAP benefits remains higher than it was before the start of the Great Recession in 2007. In 2014, the release said, an estimated 16 million children, or about one in five, received the assistance compared with the roughly 9 million children, or one in eight, getting such help before the recession. The bureau said the declared 2014 ratio was based on responses to a supplemental part of its 2014 Current Population Survey.


We followed up with the Census Bureau, where demographer Jonathan Vespa said by email that Perry got it right.

We wondered about comparable Texas figures and didn’t get perfectly comparable numbers. Results of the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey indicated nearly 1.3 million of the state’s 9.1 million households, or 14 percent, reported receiving SNAP aid sometime in the previous 12 months. The Texas households where respondents said they got the benefits included more than 842,000 with children under the age of 18, 9 percent of all Texas households, according to the survey.

We also asked Feeding Texas, a nonprofit whose mission is a hunger-free state, to assess Perry’s claim.

Celia Cole, the group’s CEO, said by email: "Perry is right."

And how does Texas stack up? By email, Dwyer, a Feeding Texas official, pointed out data posted online by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission indicating that in April 2015, 2 million Texas children received SNAP benefits. Given that the state demographer estimates that 6.9 million to 7.3 million children live in the state, Dwyer suggested, it looks like up to 30 percent of the children received SNAP benefits--similar to the rate the previous four Aprils based on Dwyer’s methodology. Nationally, Dwyer pointed out, previous bureau reports indicate that as few as 1 in 6 children received SNAP benefits in the past four years.

"Texas generally has a higher percentage of its population receiving SNAP compared to the nation," Dwyer said. "This is because the primary factor in determining eligibility for SNAP is low-income, and Texas has a significantly higher percentage of families with low income / living in poverty."

In January 2015, we found Half True a Democratic claim that since Perry became governor in late 2000, "poverty rates in Texas increased from 15.1% to 17.5% — which is higher than the national average." Those figures were supported by federal surveys, but they did not tell the full story. Texas’ poverty rate went down and then up again over Perry’s decade-plus as governor, and the gap between the nation and Texas ultimately narrowed. We also suggested it’s unreasonable to lay all blame for a state’s poverty rate on its governor; national economic factors dominate.

Our ruling

Perry said: "One out of five of our children live in a family that’s on food stamps."

To be precise, the latest federal estimate is that in 2014, 1 in 5 children received SNAP benefits.

We rate this claim True.

TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Web page, "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) A Short History of SNAP," U.S. Department of Agriculture, last published Nov. 20, 2014

Press release, "Smithsonian Acquires Historic Food Coupons from USDA," USDA, Jan. 21, 2010

Press release, "One in Five Children Receive Food Stamps, Census Bureau Reports," U.S. Census Bureau, Feb. 20, 2015

Emails, Robert Bernstein, public affairs officer, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2-3, 2015

Web page, "RECEIPT OF FOOD STAMPS/SNAP IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS BY PRESENCE OF CHILDREN UNDER 18 YEARS BY HOUSEHOLD TYPE FOR HOUSEHOLDS," Texas, 2013 1-Year American Community Survey, undated (accessed June 3, 2015)

Emails, J.C. Dwyer, senior director, policy and communications, Feeding Texas; Celia Cole, ceo, Feeding Texas, June 2, 2015

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Rick Perry says 1 in 5 U.S. children live in a family 'on food stamps'

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