The unlikely story of how the man who blasts Obama as a "food stamp president" saved a key Great Society program
Newt Gingrich has made criticism of President Obama as a “food stamp president” who wants to “maximize dependency” of the poor on the government one of the central themes of his campaign.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that a top anti-poverty advocate in Washington credits Gingrich with saving an important federal program designed to help the poor.
The episode in question dates back to Gingrich’s time as speaker of the House in the 1990s. During his tenure, Gingrich delivered a $100 million — or more than 25 percent — budget boost to Community Action Agencies (CAA), which use federal dollars on a range of locally controlled community projects designed to help address the causes of poverty.
Federal money to the CAAs goes to projects on education, job training, nutrition and the like. That infusion of money was an about-face from 1995, when the new Republican majority in the House had proposed eliminating funding for Community Action Agencies after they took power under Speaker Gingrich.
“He was helpful,” says David Bradley, the longtime executive director of the National Community Action Foundation, which lobbies for funding for the Community Action Agencies. “I can say very openly, the speaker made a commitment, and he sure kept it.”
Bradley helped draft the 1981 legislation that created the current funding mechanism for the community agencies, which were originally created as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960s.
He says the key to winning Gingrich’s support for the anti-poverty program was a March 1996 meeting held just off the House floor. The meeting, which was requested by a handful of Republican members of Congress who supported the Community Action Agencies including Rick Lazio (N.Y.) and Curt Weldon (Pa.), lasted for about 40 minutes, Bradley says.
According to Bradley, Gingrich was impressed by several aspects of the pitch, including that the Community Action Agencies had low administrative costs, were controlled locally and were run by a “tripartite board, made up of one-third elected officials, one-third the poor, and one-third members of the community at large.
“He loved that,” Bradley says. “In the 1960s, bringing the poor to the table was social revolution. In the 1990s, it was empowerment.”
The result was that Gingrich committed to increase the budget for the program from almost $400 million to almost $500 million, a boost that was later enacted in the fiscal year 1997 budget.
Gingrich also appointed Weldon to chair a congressional Anti-Poverty Task Force that was to “work with community-based organizations on expanding the role of the federal government in helping low income communities,” States News Service reported at the time.
“There was interest by a number of Republicans in getting the poverty issues a little higher on the agenda,” Bradley says. “Gingrich put that task force together to look at federal investments and what made sense.” But, he adds, the effort lost steam when Gingrich stepped down from the speakership and left Congress following the Republican defeats in the 1998 elections.
There may have also been political reasons for Gingrich’s support for the anti-poverty efforts. His image was in need of repair following a politically toxic first year as speaker, including the government shutdowns that were seen as a disaster for the GOP.
In the current election cycle, Gingrich’s most famous statement on poverty was his proposal that low-income schoolchildren take over jobs of unionized janitors. He does, though, talk about the issue much more than Mitt Romney and has released a lengthy policy document on “Moving Beyond the Welfare State.” The details aren’t entirely clear, but the document proposes handing control of federal welfare programs — including the financing of the Community Action Agencies — “back to the states.”
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11