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CNN Fact Check: Santorum misleads on 'dependence'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Santorum: Half of America is getting government assistance
  • Census Bureau: 49% of Americans get some support
  • Census number includes Social Security and Medicare

(CNN) -- Rick Santorum evoked the homespun values of hard work, education and family in his speech to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, but his math needs improvement.

The former Pennsylvania senator and runner-up in this year's GOP race criticized President Barack Obama during his convention speech for what he called a belief "in government handouts and dependency."

In addition to repeating a debunked claim that Obama rolled back work requirements for welfare recipients, Santorum said that under the Obama administration, "the dream of freedom and opportunity has become a nightmare of dependence, with almost half of America receiving some sort of government assistance."

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The facts:

-- As of June 2011, 49% of Americans received some sort of financial support from the government, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So that figure has some basis in fact.

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-- But the number includes more than just people receiving anti-poverty assistance. It also includes Social Security and Medicare, the federal pension and health care programs for seniors -- programs that are funded by workers' payroll taxes and aren't typically associated with concerns about dependency. It also includes other benefits, such as worker's compensation or educational assistance for veterans.

-- The number of people who qualify for "means-tested" benefits, which require applicants to have incomes below a certain level, was 35.1%, according to the Census Bureau.

-- By comparison, when the already-slumping U.S. economy began to nosedive in September 2008, about 24% of U.S. households received means-tested benefits such as welfare or food stamps, according to Census Bureau figures. An April report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report found that roughly one in seven Americans received food stamps -- now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- compared with about one out of 11 in 2007.

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The verdict:

Misleading. The "nearly half" Santorum cited includes most seniors who receive Medicare and Social Security benefits, while a large portion of the increase in poverty-assistance programs is a result of the lingering effects of the 2007-2009 recession.

Full coverage of the Republican National Convention

Open Story: Republican National Convention

CNN's Matt Smith and Emily Smith contributed to this report.

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