Food stamps as stimulus

Rick Perry brought his Republican presidential campaign to Virginia yesterday, and continued to take aim at the Obama administration’s economic policies.

“I know Americans don’t view food stamps as stimulus,” Perry said. “This administration calls food stamps an economic stimulus. I think food stamps are a symptom of the problem. They’re not the solution.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), around the same time, appeared on Fox Business with the same message: “You don’t hand people more food stamps and think it stimulates the economy. That’s the FDR/Keynesian/Obama economics approach.”

Perry seems certain the public doesn’t “view food stamps as stimulus” — how he knows this is unclear — but I’m more concerned with reality than public perceptions. And in this case, even he and King should be able to understand that food stamps are an excellent stimulus.

When it comes to bang for the buck — the amount of economic activity generated for every public dollar spent — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program is arguably one of the single most effective forms of government stimulus available, and is vastly more beneficial than tax cuts.

This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky liberal rhetoric; this has been repeatedly documented. A March analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, “SNAP benefits are one of the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus because they get money into the economy quickly.” The director of the Congressional Budget Office agrees.

It just requires a little thought. People who receive food stamps aren’t sticking the money in a mattress or a money-market fund; they’re spending it and doing so immediately because — you guessed it — they want to eat. This injects demand and capital into the economy quickly, helping the beneficiaries and stimulating the economy.

As for Perry’s assertion that food stamps are “a symptom of the problem,” I couldn’t agree more. The “problem,” in this case, is chronic and widespread poverty.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.