The NAACP hit back at Newt Gingrich's suggestion that he appear at the group's national conference to "explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps," calling the GOP presidential hopeful's remarks "divisive" and "problematic."

"It is a shame that the former Speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the civil rights organization, in a statement. “The majority of people using food stamps are not African-American, and most people using food stamps have a job.”

Jealous said Gingrich had declined offers to speak before the group when he served in Congress.


“We invited Speaker Gingrich to attend our annual convention several times when he was Speaker of the House, but he declined to join us,” Jealous said. “If he is invited again, I hope that he would come, with the intention to unite rather than divide.”

“Gingrich's statement is problematic on several fronts, most importantly because he gets his facts wrong."  

According to the Department of Agriculture, the plurality of participants in the food assistance program are white, with blacks representing 22 percent of food stamp recipents. Most participants in the program were children, the elderly, or disabled.

Gingrich has maintained throughout the campaign that he hoped to bring in minority voters to his campaign, often citing his work as Speaker of the House with Washington, D.C.'s predominantly black city government. 

But Gingrich angered some civil rights leaders during the campaign with his assertion that the children of the urban poor lacked a work ethic.

“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So, they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal," Gingrich said at a campaign stop last month.

The NAACP made headlines earlier this week when it denounced controversial comments by Rick Santorum, who appeared to say that he doesn'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." Santorum has denied saying the word "black," insisting that he was stumbling over his words and was misquoted.

“Sen. Santorum’s targeting of African Americans is inaccurate and outrageous, and lifts up old race-based stereotypes about public assistance,” Jealous said in a statement. “He conflates welfare recipients with African Americans, though federal benefits are in fact determined by income level. In Iowa for example, only nine percent of food stamp recipients are black, while eighty-four percent of recipients are white.”