Good news for Hawaii, Newt Gingrich says that people receiving food stamps -- or as they say in the government that Newt so desperately hopes to lead, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- are using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to visit our nation's archipelago paradise.
Just for fun let's look at the impact the more than forty million SNAP recipients will have on Hawaii's tourism statistics. According to Hawaii's Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism only about 350,000 to 500,000 tourists from the rest of the United States vacation there each month. More than forty million Americans get food stamps in the same time period.
Well maybe Newt's thinking that's how SNAP recipients got to Hawaii in the first place: tourism. But those numbers just don't add up either. The State of Hawaii Department of Human Services website says that there are only about a hundred and a half thousand SNAP recipients monthly.
The Huffington Post story which highlighted Newt's salacious, inflammatory and illogical claim that people use their food stamps to go to Hawaii details how wrong Newt was so we don't need to duplicate that information here.
What do food stamp sellers buy -- if not trips to the land of the lei?
I've worked with the homeless for about twenty years. Most recently as the VP of Cumberland County Pennsylvania's largest homeless shelter. I've lived with the homeless and written a book about my experiences. During that time I knew people who sold their food stamps.
It's all pretty tragic really. Seeing people so down on their luck that they're willing to risk welfare fraud to purchase necessities. The going rate for $200 worth of food stamps is about $70. And the easiest way to sell them is to find a merchant who will front you a small amount of cash and wait for the higher level of reimbursement that comes from the feds.
It's kind of startling that Newt floated the drastically preposterous notion that people use their food stamp money for travel rather than make the more believable claim that people were buying drugs.
But my experience -- and yeah, I know it's only anecdotal but it is real -- is that most folks who sold their SNAP benefits did so to buy necessities the food stamps would not provide. Necessities like tampons, diapers, prescription drugs, and -- in one of the saddest stories I've heard in a while --batteries.
Here's that story and I hope it serves to illustrate one undeniable truth about Newt Gingrich's repugnant lie asserting that SNAP sales increase Hawaiian tourism: Newt doesn't care how horrific the real stories are that make up the lives of our nation's poor. He seeks to vilify the impoverished for his own gain and that makes his lying about his would be constituents OK in his self serving world.
In February of this year, I traveled the 8 southeastern states with my good friend and fellow homeless advocate Diane Nilan. When we were in the Birmingham, Alabama public library conducting a forum about homeless youth, a couple of young men courageously told their stories of abandonment -- first by their families and later by the rest of us. And when I say us, I mean especially Newt Gingrich.
One young man told us about his own habit of selling food stamps for the going rate of about 35 cents on the dollar. He mentioned that he had lost nearly everything in his steady decline into isolation and despair but he still had a portable radio/disc player. With cash from his SNAP sale he could buy batteries and continue to listen to music. Music being his final remaining luxury.
The young man made the acquaintance of a medical intern who volunteered at the men's shelter in which he lived. The newly minted M.D. saw how important music was to a kid who lived in an environment that housed men who might be sexual predators or good guys and he realized how vulnerable the boys life had become. So the young doc reached into his pocket, pulled out his iPod and said, "There now you'll never need batteries, you just plug it in to recharge."
Shame on Newt Gingrich. Shame shame shame on him for telling lies about the desperate lives of SNAP recipients. That young intern knew something about the life of this poor boy that Newt could care less about: if he didn't have his food stamps to sell, that would make his body his only remaining valuable.