Fox News host Greta Van Susteren lamented that "we do nothing about the poor," but has repeatedly hosted guests who have attacked the federal food stamp program, which helps keep millions out of poverty and limits the effects of poverty and unemployment.
On the June 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren decried a lack of attention to impoverished Americans, saying, "The thing that disturbs me is that the economy I see is a three legged stool: the rich, the middle class, and the poor. And all three have to be winning and surviving, and we do nothing about the poor. You know, we play with all these numbers and look at all the unemployment but we still aren't digging into the inner city and going into the poverty, the huge poverty at the bottom in this city."
But Van Susteren's concern for the poor is inconsistent with attacks by guests on her show on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program that is designed to keep people out of poverty.
On the April 9, 2012 edition of On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Fox News contributor and former Republican Congressman Allen West suggested that food stamps prevent those in poverty from "stand[ing] up on their own":
WEST: And as you know, since the president been in office, we've seen a 45 percent increase in food stamp recipients. So I think when you look at the economic policies, we're going in the wrong direction in that we're growing the amount of people that are being on government subsistence or government dependency instead of getting people off of that with the right type of economic policies to help them to stand up on their own. [Transcript via Nexis]
In March of 2013, Van Susteren hosted Fox News contributor and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain during a segment devoted to the supposed "food stamp epidemic." Cain smeared the "high percentage" of Americans on food stamps as the product of "class warfare ideology," which enables recipients to "not feel guilty" about "gam[ing] the system" to receive government benefits:
CAIN: The reason we have such a high percentage is because of the ideological reasoning behind wanting more people on the program, as well as other programs, and that is class warfare. When you have an administration and you have liberals and you have Democrats constantly promoting the fact that maybe the rich are not paying enough, even though the top 50 percent of taxpayers paid nearly 98 percent of the taxes -- they continue to promote this class warfare ideology, so it makes some people who find a way to game the system not feel guilty about it. That's part of the problem, and it's this whole class warfare ideology.
But Van Susteren's guests ignored that SNAP is an effective antipoverty program that keeps millions out of poverty and lessens the severity of poverty and unemployment. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that food stamps "kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, including 2.1 million children" and "lifted 1.5 million children above 50 percent of the poverty line in 2011, more than any other benefit program":
CBPP has also noted that the percent of households with very low food security decreased thanks in part to the increase in SNAP benefits:
One study of the impacts of the increase in SNAP benefits from the Recovery Act found that the prevalence of very low food security of households with incomes eligible for SNAP (130 percent of poverty and less) decreased from 2008 to 2009 (before and after the SNAP benefit increase, respectively). The percent of households with very low food security was expected to increase due to changes in income and employment resulting from the recession, yet it decreased; this decline was not shown among higher-income households. This impact, along with increases in participation and increased spending on food from this population, suggests that SNAP benefits can be effective at ensuring that households have enough to eat.
And contrary to West's and Cain's remarks, the increase in SNAP caseloads is primarily the result of the recession. According to a CBPP report (emphasis original):
The number of people eligible for SNAP increased because of the recession and lagging recovery. The number of people with income below 130 percent of poverty (the SNAP income limit) increased substantially, from 54 million in 2007, before the recession, to 60 million in 2009 and 64 million in 2011, allowing more households to qualify for help from the program.
Participation among eligible households also increased. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the SNAP participation rate rose from 65 percent in 2007 to 75 percent in 2010, the most recent year available. Households that already were poor became poorer during the recession. The widespread and prolonged effects of the recession may have made it more difficult for other family members and communities to provide support to people who are struggling to make ends meet. In addition, states continued efforts begun before the recession to reach more eligible households, particularly working families and senior citizens, by simplifying SNAP policies and procedures. All of these factors likely contributed to rising participation rates.