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Cantor, anti-hunger advocates spar over food stamp studies

Conservatives are pointing to two new studies — one from the Congressional Research Service, the other from the New York-based Manhattan Institute — as proof that too many people are now on food stamps, but the Food Research Action Center said today that the studies only prove that the food stamp program is working the way it is supposed to work in a recession.

A CRS study requested by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., showed that after the 2008 Recovery Act suspended a provision in the 1996 welfare reform act that limited the participation of able-bodied adults without dependents to three months in any 36-month period unless they worked, the number of these adults on food stamps doubled from 1.9 million people in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010.

Although Congress passed that law, Cantor said in an email to The Examiner, a Washington newspaper, that, “This report once again confirms that President Obama has severely gutted the welfare work requirements that Americans have overwhelmingly supported since President Clinton signed them into law. It’s time to reinstate these common-sense measures, and focus on creating job growth for those in need.”

The Manhattan Institute study, written by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a former Labor Department chief economist who is now a senior fellow at the institute and a columnist for The Examiner, details the growth in the use of food stamps — now formally known as the supplemental nutrition assistance program — and ends by asking, “Does 15 percent of our population truly qualify as the neediest among us?”

In her column, Furchgott-Roth wrote, “We all want to help those truly in need — in order to empower them to help themselves succeed — but we defeat the purpose if we create perverse incentives for people to depend on public assistance for long-term sustenance.”

FRAC President Jim Weill responded in an interview today.

“Both the studies explain that the recession and the weak economic recovery since have had a huge impact on people’s finances and incomes so the data shows what that impact was,” Weill said. “A lot more people became poor and working people continued to work but wages went down.”

The Examiner, Weill said, “unsurprisingly tries to put a right-wing twist on the data, but the data do not bear out the story.”

He said the CRS report is “very straightforward” and shows ”some significant growth” among able bodied adults in the program, “but it was a tiny share of the growth in the program as a whole.”

Weill noted that Congress passed the Recovery Act with changes to the food stamp program and said that conservatives “are trying to take an act of Congress and an act of the economy and spin it into a political hit.”

Of the studies and the Examiner stories, Weill said, “If you take out some of the unwarranted political spinning, all the studies show is that the program operates the way it is supposed to, which is that when people have no income or reduced income for the basics of life, it has been there to help them.”