In NPR Segment on Poverty, WashPost's Henneberger Sees Food Stamp Surge As a 'Real Success Story'

On the afternoon of Election Day, NPR's Tell Me More focused on issues that the media and the candidates tended to ignore. Naturally, one of them was poverty. NPR business editor Marilyn Geewax explained the "stimulus" was designed to set up a "big surge" in the food stamp program.

Washington Post blogger Melinda Henneberger complained that the only time poverty was mentioned was when Romney was suggesting the food stamp surge showed Obama's economic program was a failure. But she counted the vast expansion as a "real success story" for the administration:

MARILYN GEEWAX: It's interesting that some journalists have gone back through transcripts and actually counted the word poverty, how many times it came up, and it really hasn't been brought up much. The word middle class shows up everywhere. And yet there really has been a tremendous growth in poverty in this country since the Great Recession began.

In 2007, before the Great Recession began, about 13 percent of Americans were in poverty, and now it's up to 15, 16 percent. And that's really this overhang from people losing their jobs, losing their homes. And we've seen a big surge in the number of people who are taking advantage of food stamps.

That's a program that's called SNAP nowadays, the Supplemental Assistance for Nutrition Program. But that growth has really been part of the stimulus bill. When President Obama came into office in early 2009, it was clear that more and more people were going to need food stamps, so there was more money set aside for that. And it's really caused a big expansion in the program, and that's where most of the help for poverty has gone, into trying to keep people fed.

MICHEL MARTIN: Hmm. Melinda, you're one of the political writers who has written about the fact that poverty has not been very much a part of discussions on the campaign trail.


MARTIN: Can you just give your perspective on why you think that is?

HENNEBERGER: I think it's because it's the perception that there's no constituency for that, that since poor people don't vote, we don't have to address that incredibly important issue. I was an anti-poverty symposium a few weeks ago at Catholic University where one of the speakers said you'd almost think since we hear so much about this being a Christian country that it says in the Bible whatsoever you do unto the middle class, you do unto me.

Because we hear constantly about the middle class, and usually, when we hear about poverty at all in this campaign, it has been Mitt Romney accusing the president of overseeing this economy where so many more people - as Marilyn said - are getting food stamps. But I see the fact that people are getting food stamps as a real success story, if the other option is people going hungry.

If we extended that analogy, the biggest success story of all would be a vast majority of the country on food stamps! Liberals easily see the government meeting a human need as a success, excluding any consideration that a big surge in food stamps could be seen as a measure of policy failure.

The segment continued with mild complaining that Obama no longer talks about poverty.

MARTIN: But in the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Obama did talk about poverty.

HENNEBERGER: Did talk more about it.

MARTIN: And talked about ending poverty in a more ambitious fashion.

HENNEBERGER: That's right.

MARTIN: Why isn't he talking about it?

HENNEBERGER: You'd really have to ask the president's people. And I think it's very disappointing that he hasn't talked more about it. I think that there's that perception that when the Republicans are talking about redistribution, maybe it makes him a little bit self-conscious about speaking about poverty. But it really is a problem that, when it's mentioned this year, it has been mentioned by the Republicans as an accusation.

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