Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

CNN Fact Check: Santorum misleads on 'dependence'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
  • 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."

CNN Fact Check: Obama and Romney's energy policies

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.

GOP stars throw support behind Romney

-- 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.

CNN Fact Check: Lower unemployment in GOP-led states?

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.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Although it has been over for nearly a year now, the war in Iraq continued to be a flash point in the final debate.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama made the case that al Qaeda in Pakistan is decimated while Mitt Romney argued they are on the rise in other countries.
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of initially being against a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
The contention that President Obama apologized to other nations for American behavior has been mentioned repeatedly by his critics, including Mitt Romney.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama asserted that it cost the United States less to help oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi than it did to run two weeks of the 2003-2011 war in Iraq.
updated 5:58 PM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama said Gov. Mitt Romney had criticized his administration for being too tough against China, and bringing a protectionist case at the World Trade Organization.
updated 12:48 PM EDT, Sat October 20, 2012
Conservative critics launched an attack on moderator Candy Crowley after she corrected Romney's claim that Obama did not refer to the consulate attack in Benghazi as an "act of terror."
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Romney highlighted the number of women in the unemployment lines during President Barack Obama's term.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama said he identified the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya as a terrorist attack within a day; Romney said it took two weeks.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama touted his administration's support for the federal Pell Grant program and other aid for college students.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama boasted that the Affordable Care Act gives insured women free contraception coverage, and said Romney thinks employers should decide whether women can get contraception through insurance.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
Fears of a possibly nuclear-armed Iran took center stage early in the vice presidential debate between Biden and Ryan.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
The September attack that killed four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya was the subject of a few claims at the VP debate.
updated 8:20 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
Federal support for wind power and electric cars was one of the early flashpoints between Biden and Ryan.
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
The Affordable Care Act emerged as an issue between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.