CLAIM: President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to “brag” about “taking away food stamps.”
VERDICT: FALSE. Trump boasted about helping the poor find jobs and move off welfare.
One of the most frequently fact-checked claims in President Trump’s address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday evening is his claim: “Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food stamp rolls. Under my Administration, 7 million Americans have come off of food stamps, and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who walked out of the speech because she was “triggered” by the mention of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, tweeted:
I walked out of that speech. The lies, the bigotry, and the shameless bragging about taking away food stamps that people depend on to live—it was all beneath the dignity of the office he occupies. Shame on this forever impeached president.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) February 5, 2020
California Gov. Gavin Newsom took time out from his urgent task of solving his state’s exploding homelessness problem to make a similar claim:
Trump announced he would drastically cut SNAP benefits right before the holidays.
Now he is literally bragging about preying on the most vulnerable — children, families, seniors — who depend on these programs to be able to put food on the table.
Nothing short of malicious. https://t.co/roYxyUnFfG
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) February 5, 2020
On its face, the claim is ridiculous. What politician would brag about “preying on the most vulnerable”?
In fact, Trump was boasting about his administration’s success in reducing poverty and helping the most vulnerable. For example, he noted:
The unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans have reached the lowest levels in history. African-American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low.
African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded.
Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage-earners has increased by 47 percent — 3 times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent. After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast — and, wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low-income workers, who have seen a 16 percent pay-increase since my election. This is a blue collar boom.
Trump’s claim about food stamps was made in the same breath — not a boast about taking away benefits, but about providing people with the opportunity to become independent of government assistance. That is something that, theoretically, all Americans probably agree is a good idea and a worthy goal.
It is true, as the Politico article that Newsom cited (above) suggested, that not all of those 7 million people who have come off food stamps have done so solely because they made a transition from poverty to self-reliance. The Trump administration tightened eligibility rules for food stamps to reduce fraud and to make sure that only those who need the program use it rather, than taking what others truly need.
The new rules may actually encourage independence, as Breitbart News explained last year, because it requires recipients to seek work or further education: “[T]hose who are able-bodied and between the ages of 18-49 and without children or dependents who receive food stamps for more than three months in a 36-month period must work, go to school, receive job training, or volunteer to receive benefits.”
As one fact-checker noted at Washington, DC, CBS affiliate WUSA-9:
CLAIM: “Under my administration, seven million Americans have come off food stamps and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare.”
This claim is true but needs context.
“Food stamps” refers to the U.S Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Data from SNAP shows that there are roughly six or seven million less people on the SNAP program than there were before President Trump took office. The number varies depending on if the count starts in January, 2017 when Trump took office, or look a few months earlier when they were at their recent peak. As for the total of 10 million lifted off welfare, that number is harder to pin down directly. President Trump didn’t specify which welfare programs he was referring to. SNAP food stamps saw a roughly seven million decrease and Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance saw a roughly 4.7 million person decrease. Depending on the month, those two programs combined could come out near Trump’s statement. It’s worth noting that some of the decrease on these programs came from changes to the SNAP program and the qualifications. Not all seven million people can be definitively said to have stopped needing food stamps.
Even if the president’s claim “needs context,” it is untrue that he was “bragging” about hurting the poor.
Quite the opposite: Trump was boasting about helping the poor — as any president who could, would.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.