Republican front-runner Donald Trump mocked a protester’s weight at a Wednesday campaign rally in Worcester, Massachusetts and said that the man was upset because he had been critical of the nation’s food stamp program. Hunger advocates took the billionaire to task Sunday, characterizing his comments as falsehoods.
"We have 93 million people out of the labor force, we have 50 million people in poverty, we have 43 million -- and now it's actually going to be probably closer to 50 -- 50 million people on food stamps," Trump said before the protester interrupted. The heckling Trump received was inaudible in video feeds.
U.S. Department of Agriculture records show that what he was saying is a little off. There are more people receiving nutritional assistance than Trump's figure, but the trend in enrollment is headed downward. Critics say that Republicans, including Trump, frequently ignore the reality of the assistance program.
“Since the time of Reagan, it’s been Republicans that have demonized this program even as many of their supporters have benefited from them,” Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, told the International Business Times. “The fact of the matter is that food stamp enrollment went up heavily during (President George W.) Bush.”
Trump’s comments, Berg said, are purposefully misleading on Trump’s part and follow a regular line of attack from GOP candidates.
“The numbers are the numbers,” Berg said. “I don’t think you can misinterpret his quote in any other way."
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this article.
Food stamp enrollment as a part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose throughout the first decade of the 21st century during the Bush administration and the first half of the Obama administration. SNAP peaked in December 2012 when 47.8 million were enrolled, according to the USDA. The number has since declined to 45.5 million in August 2015, the most recent month for which data is available. That represents a 2.3 million total decline in program enrollment.
Trump is familiar with controversy and criticism. He began his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. Most recently, Trump said he supported people at his rally who shoved, kicked and tackled a Black Lives Matter movement member at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama.
Trump is currently the front-runner for the Republican nominee. He takes in 27.5 percent of the vote, according to averages of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics . His closest competitor doesn’t top 20.
This article has been updated for clarity.