Fox News' campaign of misinformation surrounding food assistance programs may be continuing to influence GOP legislation, as lawmakers in both Missouri and Kansas consider measures addressing "fake problems" within their state's benefit programs.
Republican lawmakers in Kansas recently introduced legislation restricting where recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as "welfare") can spend their money and what they can buy. The bill would limit the daily spending allowance to $25 and ban recipients from using benefits at psychics and tattoo parlors. Another measure, introduced by the House GOP in Missouri, will similarly limit how recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly knowns as "food stamps") can use their benefits, prohibiting them from buying "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks."
As Dana Milbank explained in an April 8 op-ed for The Washington Post, legislation of this nature is "about demeaning public-benefit recipients" and has little to do with public policy. "Few can afford filet mignon on a less-than-$7/day food-stamp allotment" wrote Milbank, "they're more likely to be buying chuck steak or canned tuna."
Fox News has spent years denigrating food assistance programs and recipients, with its campaign coming to a head in August 2013 when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who had allegedly taken advantage of food stamps to purchase lobster and other luxury foods while refusing to work for a living. Labeling Greenslate as "the new face of food stamps," the network used the man as an example of fraud and waste within food assistance programs, despite the rate of trafficking in the program being just over 1 percent.
Fox's influence over Republican policymaking has previously been felt in legislation about food assistance programs. In the months after their special aired, the network distributed copies of it to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in anticipation of an upcoming vote to cut up to $40 billion of SNAP funding over ten years. The proposal would have threatened nearly 4 million Americans with greater food insecurity.
Now, Fox's misinformation is again threatening to create real hardships for those who depend on food assistance programs to make ends meet. In an April 7 article for the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift wrote that the only evidence to back up claims of fraud used to justify food stamp and welfare restrictions in Kansas and Missouri is the "widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance."
The Washington Post's Roberto Ferdman also traced the Missouri bill back to its roots in Fox's campaign to demonize recipients of food assistance. In an April 3 post for Wonkblog, Ferdman wrote that the measures "fit a longtime conservative suspicion that poor people use food stamps to purchase luxury items" but that the myths perpetuated by Fox News "should be viewed as distortions of reality."
From the March 25 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Fox News championed a campaign to encourage healthy school nutrition in an interview with New York Giants player Victor Cruz, sharply contrasting with the network's long history of attacking similar efforts as government fiat.
On the March 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Victor Cruz promoted Fuel Up to Play 60, the "nation's largest in-school wellness program." The initiative, a partnership between the National Football League and the National Dairy Council, aims to encourage support for school nutrition by creating "a system for increasing breakfast participation by delivering reimbursable meals to classrooms for student consumption before or during class," pointing to research that suggests offering "breakfast free to all children improve[s] student achievement, diets and behavior."
Cruz's campaign received a warm welcome by the Fox & Friends co-hosts who donned Cruz jerseys while interviewing him during National School Breakfast Week. Co-host Steve Doocy lauded Cruz for working to ensure "every kid in America is eating a healthy breakfast." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Cruz's campaign, saying, "I know how important you understand nutrition is for kids. You do so much for kids, and this Play 60 campaign that you're running with here is so important. Tell us about why breakfast really counts for kids":
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News pushed three food stamp myths in under five minutes, while hyping new statistics showing that 46.5 million Americans now receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) -- or food stamp -- benefits. Fox ignored the fact that raising the minimum wage would reduce the number of SNAP recipients, that experts agree marriage would not solve problems of poverty, that increasing numbers of college students are food insecure and need this government aid, and that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits.
Right-wing media have championed photo ID requirements on EBT cards for Maine residents who receive food stamp benefits, claiming high levels of waste and fraud. But in reality, Maine's SNAP program is not rampant with fraud and such photo identification measures have proved inefficient in other states.
From the October 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Conservative media's lengthy campaign to demonize government programs by accusing low-income Americans of using benefits to buy marijuana has culminated in legislation being passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives this week.
Two bills linking government assistance for impoverished families to the legal purchase of marijuana are making their way through the Republican-controlled House. The Preserving Welfare For Needs Not Weed Act, proposed by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and passed by the House yesterday, aims to prohibit the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards containing cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in stores selling marijuana (At this time, only two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the sale of the drug for recreational use). A second bill, the No Welfare For Weed Act, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), extends even further -- it aims to ban the purchase of marijuana with SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps.
These bills come on the heels of a concerted effort by Fox News and conservative blogs like National Review Online (NRO) to accuse low-income Americans of using government assistance to purchase recreational marijuana. One month after Colorado legalized the sale of pot, NRO alleged "welfare beneficiaries withdrew thousands of dollars in public-assistance cash from ATMs at weed shops" in the state, a report echoed by Fox & Friends co-host Eric Bolling, who asked, "Are food stamps now going to pot?":
BOLLING: Forty-seven million people are on food stamps nationwide. In Colorado, more than 500,000 are getting food stamps every month. Meanwhile, 348 shops are set up in Colorado to sell pot in the state. And food stamp cards have reportedly been used at pot shops, ATMs, at least 64 times in the short time weed has been legal in Colorado. So are food stamps now going to pot?
In 64 specific times, people used an EBT card to take out cash, presumably to buy pot.
Conservative media's accusation that impoverished families use food stamps and government benefits to buy marijuana, one they've continued to push for months, was echoed by House Republicans justifying their current proposals.
Presenting his bill on September 16, Reichert declared, "We are seeing new abuses of these benefits. In these states, a person can walk into one of the newly opened pot shops and use their welfare benefit card to pay for pot ... This isn't an idle concern. Report examining welfare transactions in Colorado revealed over $5,000 in welfare benefits were accessed in stores selling marijuana in the first month such stores were open."
The link between TANF benefits and pot purchases has yet to be established. In NRO's original report, the blog admitted it could not conclude that any TANF money has been used specifically for the purchase of marijuana, stating, "Some of these establishments sell groceries as well as pot, so there is no way to know exactly how much welfare money was spent on marijuana."
Notably, despite the House bill suggesting otherwise, food stamp recipients are only allowed to use benefits to purchase approved food items and are barred from purchasing alcohol, tobacco, and non-food items. The USDA makes clear that SNAP benefits can't be used to withdraw cash from ATMs (emphasis original):
SNAP benefits can never be withdrawn as cash. Many States allow clients to use a single EBT card to access SNAP as well as cash benefit programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In most States, cash benefits from other programs can be accessed through ATMs.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed downplayed the seriousness of food insecurity in the United States, claiming that government research on the topic "isn't about hunger" and dismissing the millions of Americans who faced uncertain access to food last year.
On September 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report on household food security in the United States, finding that 17.5 million households in the country were food insecure in 2013, meaning that they had "limited or uncertain" access to "nutritionally adequate and safe food."
In response to the USDA report, The Wall Street Journal published a September 3 opinion piece by James Bovard attacking government focus on food insecurity as a measurement of widespread hunger in the United States. Bovard suggested thatmembers of food-insecure households are not legitimately hungry because "widespread hunger" has been "debunked" by another USDA report that found children in low-income households consume more calories on average than those in higher-income households. Bovard cited the higher consumption of calories by children in low-income households as evidence of a "paradoxical relationship between food stamps and food insecurity" and demanded more transparency on what food stamp benefits are being spent on.
But by denying the legitimacy of measuring food insecurity, Bovard erased food insecurity's pervasive impact across the United States. Although hunger and food insecurity are in fact separate issues, as Bovard pointed out, the USDA underscores that they are still "related." According to the USDA, "Food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited access to food, while hunger is an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity." The USDA began to distinguish between food insecurity and hunger in the department's research due to a "lack of consistent meaning of the word" hunger.
Citing higher calorie consumption among children in low-income households as evidence that debunks child hunger is also misleading. As the Food Research and Action Center points out, food insecure and low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity, due to "[l]imited resources and lack of access to healthy, affordable foods," which are primary factors in those living in poverty consuming higher-calorie foods. The center says that healthy food is often more expensive and less available than energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.
Fox News host Keith Ablow continued his attacks on First Lady Michelle Obama's weight, suggesting the first lady is a hypocrite on nutrition standards because photographs he claims to have seen prove, in Ablow's mind, that Obama has "struggled with her own weight" while in the White House.
Ablow was widely criticized after he dismissed the first lady's school nutrition efforts on the August 12 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, because he determined "she needs to drop a few" pounds. His comments engendered a widespread backlash, including from his own Fox colleagues. Ablow went on to defend his comments the next day to Politico, saying he was "not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America" and "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
On the August 21 edition of Outnumbered, Ablow doubled down on his offensive comments, citing unspecified "images online" as proof of Michelle Obama's personal hypocrisy on fitness:
ABLOW: Well, listen, first, let's provide some context. The context was to remind people the draconian standards set by the first lady in her school lunch program, such that children are throwing their school lunches away. They're inedible. They won't eat them. And what I was reacting to was the hypocrisy. Let me phrase it slightly differently. For someone who has struggled with her own weight, which I think she would agree with -who has struggled so many of us have -- for someone like that to say we're going to set draconian standards and dial everything so far down thatit's inedible.
FAULKNER: How do you know she struggled with her weight?
ABLOW: Well, okay, because I know from the images online that she has struggled with her weight or chosen -- or chosen to be much heavier than at other points in the administration. Maybe she's chosen it. You're saying how do I know she's struggled. Maybe she didn't struggle. Maybe she chose to be a larger woman for some --
UPDATE: Keith Ablow defended his remarks on August 13 in an interview with Politico, saying it was "hypocrisy" for Michelle Obama to act as a "role model" on diet when she "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
A member of Fox News' "Medical A-Team" argued that Michelle Obama is not a credible voice on school nutrition because "she needs to drop a few" pounds.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made fighting childhood obesity a cornerstone of her time in the White House. Recently, she's faced backlash from conservatives seeking to put an end to one of Obama's victories: federal school lunch standards that emphasize healthy eating.
The hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered continued this fight on August 12, when Dr. Keith Ablow, a prominent member of the network's "Medical A-Team," claimed that Obama cannot be taken seriously on the issue of nutrition because she "needs to lose a few" pounds. Ablow's female co-hosts expressed surprise and quickly changed the subject.
KENNEDY: We don't need the federal government applying -- projecting -- these standards upon us. And Michelle Obama is so, like, the duchess when she speaks.
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: She's kind of annoying that way.
KENNEDY: She is.
ABLOW: And how well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few.
ABLOW: I'm telling you, let's be honest --
HARRIS FAULKNER: You did not say that --
ABLOW: We're taking nutrition advice from who? Who are we taking nutrition advice from?
The First Lady has long been the target of offensive personal attacks from the right, and Ablow is no stranger to sexist rhetoric himself, well-known for his anti-LGBT commentary and analysis that is often unsupported by the medical field at large.
Update: Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean later tweeted at Ablow, saying "please keep your comments about women 'dropping a few' to yourself. Sincerely, all women."
Fox News misleadingly attacked the federal food stamp program for being wasteful and unaccountable despite reports that the program achieved the lowest payment error rate in its history in the most recently available data.
Fox New complained about the findings of a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on quality control in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. The USDA report clearly states that the 2012 fiscal year was "another year of excellent performance in payment accuracy" before noting that the most recent payment error rate of 3.42 percent was once again "the lowest National payment error rate in the history of SNAP."
On the July 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade cast the findings in a negative light, stressing that "the government is overpaying on food stamps by about $2 billion." Co-host Steve Doocy then questioned whether the Obama administration could "be trusted with more money," given the overpayments. Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney went on to chastise the Department of Agriculture for labeling the food-stamp payment error rate of 3.42 percent "excellent," wondering aloud "since when has that been good?"
Fox News' mischaracterization of the SNAP report continued throughout the day. On Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee called the USDA report "startling" and said that "the administration is having a tough time managing its funds." On The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson claimed that federal spending on nutrition assistance was "reaching a breaking point" before highlighting the growth of participation in the food stamp program since 2007.
Far from indicating a managerial flaw in the Obama administration, the 2012 payment error rate in SNAP is evidence of success in rooting out improper payments. According to the report being derided on Fox News, the national payment error rate in SNAP during President Obama's first year in office was 4.36 percent. That error rate then fell to 3.81, 3.80, and 3.42 percent in fiscal years 2010-2012, respectively.
A new study on school lunches casts doubt on conservative media's politicized rhetoric regarding first lady Michelle Obama's school-lunch initiative.
In January 2012, Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled healthier standards for school lunches, the first effort to do so "in more than fifteen years." However, in May of this year, the new standards suffered a political backlash in Congress. The Washington Post reported that the House Appropriations Committee voted for a "Republican-backed measure" to temporarily roll back the standards in a "party-line vote [that] served as a rebuke of sorts to the first lady."
Right-wing media, who have a poor track record when it comes to talking about school meals, especially free ones, took to attacking Michelle Obama and the school lunch program itself for "plate waste" amid reports that students supposedly didn't like the new, healthier food.
However, a new study published Monday in the journal Childhood Obesity shows that students get used to the new lunches with time. According to The Boston Globe, the study found that "over time, children adapt and tolerate school lunches just as much as in the old days":
Fox News is echoing Republican attacks on healthy school food standards that come from a group receiving funding from companies that sell food to school districts.
On the May 27 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, co-host Sandra Smith defended new Republican-sponsored legislation to roll back school nutrition standards, providing waivers from standards to those schools that report a financial loss in their food programs during the previous six months. Smith attacked the healthy food initiative as a program whose "economics" is "failing," asserting that "90 percent of schools...are now reporting increased costs" and that the legislation simply takes into account the difficulties faced by school nutritionists, who she claimed "just want some flexibility because it is being forced down their throat right now":
While Smith did not disclose the source of her information, the Associated Press notes the claim that "90 percent of schools that are now reporting increased costs" and that school meal programs are losing money come from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which describes itself as "a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country."
SNA receives a significant amount of funding from companies that sell food to schools. Among its "major" contributors is Schwan's Food Service, which makes pizzas and sandwiches for schools and similar operations. Other SNA donors include more companies that sell food to schools, such as ConAgra, Kellogg's, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Domino's Pizza, and Tyson Foods.
The Washington Post reported that the SNA, in a "dramatic change" of position, supports the Republican-backed waivers. The Post noted that White House assistant chef and nutrition policy adviser Sam Kass opposed the change, meaning that "congressional Republicans are choosing to favor corporate preferences over the recommendations of nutritionists and physicians." The food industry has previously sought to weaken food standards, according to the Post, succeeding in 2011 to change rules so that pizza with tomato sauce could be counted as a vegetable.
A new GOP push to dramatically cut federal spending for summer school lunch programs comes after years of right-wing media misinformation about and attacks against funding for school lunch programs.
On May 19, House Republicans proposed an agriculture budget that would cut the summer lunch program for low-income schoolchildren in urban areas and would require the Agriculture Department to "establish a waiver process for local school districts who have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs," according to Politico (emphasis added):
In the case of nutrition programs, the House bill seeks to open the door for starchy, white potatoes to be added to the list of qualified vegetables under the WIC supplemental feeding program for pregnant women and their young children. The Agriculture Department would also be required to establish a waiver process for local school districts which have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs.
And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households -- both urban and rural -- during those months when school meals are not available.
These proposed cuts echo years of right-wing media attacking the need for summer lunch programs, and school lunch programs in general. As far back as 2010, radio host Rush Limbaugh challenged the Summer Food Service programs, suggesting hungry children from low-income families can "dumpster dive" for food (emphasis added):
LIMBAUGH: I think, you know what we're going to do here, we're going to start a feature on this program: "Where to find food." For young demographics, where to find food. Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: "Try your house." It's a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what's called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you're going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dip and maybe a can of corn that you don't want, but it will be there. If that doesn't work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald's. You know where McDonald's is. There's the Dollar Menu at McDonald's and if they don't have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.
There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?
Fox News has also voiced opposition to the summer lunch program and attempted to gin up controversy about the program by baselessly speculating that it was a "come one, come all" invitation for taxpayer-funded meals that ineligible children would exploit. Last year, Fox's Stuart Varney criticized summer lunch programs, ignoring the fact that such programs play an instrumental role in reducing child hunger.
The right-wing media's campaign against school lunches extends beyond summer. Fox and others have previously asked if children should work for school meals and claimed free school meal programs hurt low-income kids, yet ignored their usual lunch stance when it involved students who usually pay for their lunch.
Food insecurity affects millions of children -- 10 percent of households by USDA data-- and reports hold that hunger is on the rise in many U.S. cities. Studies show that child hunger impairs their academic achievement, facts that right-wing media overlook in coverage that provides public cover for harsh GOP cuts.