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FOOD STAMP USE UP, BUT WHO'S AT FAULT?

The statement

President Barack Obama deserves to be called "the most successful food stamp president in American history" because "47 million Americans are on food stamps."

Newt Gingrich, in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press

* * *

The ruling: HALF TRUE

"Food stamps" - which provide qualifying, low-income Americans with vouchers to buy groceries - have officially been known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, since October 2008.

For the most recent month with available data - February 2011 - roughly 44.2 million people received SNAP benefits. That's a bit less than Gingrich had said, but it's in the ballpark. February marked the third consecutive month that the number of recipients topped 44 million.

Based on our look through the data, February's numbers appear to be the highest number of beneficiaries in any month since the program was established in 1969. As recently as October 2007, about 27 million Americans received SNAP benefits. That's more than a 60 percent increase in beneficiaries in 3-1/2 years.

The 27 million accounts for about 14 percent of Americans - slightly less than one out of every seven, rather than one out of six, as Gingrich said.

Now the second question: Is it fair to lay the blame on Obama?

Obviously, the rise in food stamps is a direct consequence of the serious recession that began in December 2007 - more than a year before Obama took office. It's hard to determine how much blame Obama deserves compared to his predecessor, President George W. Bush, but the experts we spoke to, conservative and liberal, agree Obama inherited a serious situation.

Part of the reason it's tricky to divvy up blame is that there is typically a lag time before an upturn in the broader economy begins to show up in decreased SNAP usage. The monthly growth has slowed over the last three months, and if current trends continue, it could start declining in a month or two.

One last point: The number of food stamp beneficiaries had started to head upward under Bush, partly because of more aggressive efforts to get eligible Americans to apply for benefits, and partly because of changes in the rules that had the effect of broadening eligibility. The experts we spoke to agreed that both policies began under Bush but were retained by Obama.

The number of average monthly beneficiaries rose in seven out of the eight years of Bush's presidency.

On balance, we rate Gingrich's statement Half True.

This ruling has been edited for print. For more rulings, go to PolitiFact.com.

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