What Did Rick Santorum Say? Welfare Comments Scrutinized

Jan 3, 2012 1:20pm

Rick Santorum either stumbled on his words or singled out African-Americans when deriding welfare Sunday.

The former Pennsylvania senator is under fire after several news reports quoted him as saying, ”I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.”

Santorum was addressing entitlements at a town hall in Iowa, as he does at almost every campaign event, but it’s unclear whether the GOP candidate actually said “black” people or simply stumbled on his words.

When asked for an explanation by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Santorum neither confirmed nor denied his wording, only saying that he doesn’t recall.

“I haven’t heard the context of the question,” he explained. “I haven’t heard it. All I can say is that I don’t single out any one group of people. That’s one thing I don’t do. I don’t divide people by group or race or class.

“I condemn all forms of racism,” he added.

His comments were in response to a question asking him about foreign influence and how the country can get off “this crazy train.”

The number of Medicaid recipients has surged in recent years because of high unemployment and a weak economy, but the majority of recipients are white. Nationally, 43 percent of those who received Medicaid in 2009-2010 were non-elderly white Americans, compared to Hispanics, who comprised 28 percent Hispanics and blacks at 22 percent. African-Americans make up only about 12 percent of the total population.

In Iowa, that gap widened considerably. That same year, 74 percent of those who received Medicaid were whites and 8 percent were blacks, according to statistics compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Although it’s unclear whether Santorum specifically singled out blacks, his other comments about Medicaid appeared to be off the mark.

“I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the Department of Public Welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program,” Santorum said. ”They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.”

First, there is no “Department of Public Welfare” in Iowa, as Santorum stated. It’s the Department of Human Services that disburses Medicaid grants.

Second, it is unclear to what “fine” Santorum was referring. Iowa, like other states, receives federal reimbursement for the money it disburses in Medicaid fees. There is no quota system or target that the state has to meet in order to be eligible for federal money. The amount of money that each state receives is dependent on its economy.

“The formula is based on how well that state is doing economically and since Iowa is improving its economic status, we are soon to lose a couple percentage points,” said Roger Munns, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services. “This is not a punishment. This is a recognition that Iowa’s economy is improving relative to other states.”

Although the number of Medicaid recipients in Iowa has increased, like the rest of the country, the number has flattened out in recent months.

“Iowa is in remarkably good shape,” Munns said. “The Medicaid program is fully funded for this fiscal year. Many state legislatures are asking for supplement. Our cost per member continues to be flat and low compared to other states and we continue to be aggressive in making sure that we squeeze out mistakes or fraud.”

What Santorum might have been referring to is the new federal health care law, which expands coverage to people who are at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Like other states, Iowa will have to expand its eligibility requirement or face penalization when that clause in the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014.

Santorum’s comments were first reported by NPR.

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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