Fox News promoted various falsehoods about poverty and anti-poverty programs, erroneously claiming that government programs cannot and have not reduced poverty levels.
On the September 19 edition of Fox News' America Live, guest host Alisyn Camerota hosted a panel discussion over House Republicans' plan to reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as food stamps -- by nearly $40 billion over 10 years.
Camerota introduced the discussion by noting that the Census Bureau recently reported that the national poverty rate in 2012 remained at 15 percent. She then claimed that poverty in America is a problem "that growing government assistance programs cannot fix." Fox Business' anti-food stamp crusader Charles Payne then claimed that poverty rates have remained unchanged since the 1960s, casting doubt over the efficacy of anti-poverty programs. Payne later claimed that people living in poverty have a strong disincentive to work because of government programs.
Virtually every statement made by Camerota, Payne, and subsequently by Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel about anti-poverty programs is false.
First, Camerota's claim about government assistance not lifting Americans out of poverty is directly contradicted by the very census report she cites. While it is true that 15 percent of Americans remain in poverty -- unchanged from 2011 -- the fact is that absent government anti-poverty programs, the number of Americans living in poverty would be millions greater. From the annual census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage:
- If unemployment insurance benefits were excluded from money income, 1.7 million more people would be counted as in poverty in 2012.
- If SNAP benefits were counted as income, 4 million fewer people would be categorized as in poverty in 2012.
- Taking account of the value of the federal earned income tax credit would reduce the number of children classified as in poverty in 2011 by 3.1 million.
Payne's claim that the rate has remained unchanged since the 1960s despite anti-poverty programs also doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Previewing the release of the annual census report, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) anticipated such falsehoods, pointing out that they are "simply not valid or accurate." According to CBPP:
Comparing today's official poverty rate with those of the 1960s yields highly distorted results because the official poverty measure captures so little of the poverty relief that today's safety net now provides.
CBPP also included a chart showing just how effective anti-poverty programs have been at reducing poverty, and how rates would be reduced even further if the census accounted for noncash transfers.
Payne's statement about government assistance discouraging people from working is also dubious, given that he ostensibly cited the findings of a misleading report from the Cato institute that has been thoroughly debunked by economists as overstating benefits from welfare programs.
Fox has ramped up its misleading coverage of anti-poverty programs in recent weeks, going so far as to distribute its incredibly inaccurate special report on SNAP to members of Congress to assist efforts to reduce funding for the program.
Congressman David Price (D-NC) took to the House floor today to criticize Fox News for "trying to help" Republicans gut nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with misleading reporting.
In August, Fox News aired a special called "The Great Food Stamp Binge," which dishonestly featured Jason Greenslate, an obnoxious California surfer who brags about abusing his SNAP benefits. Fox labeled Greenslate "the new face of food stamps" (in reality, someone like Greenslate is anything but the typical SNAP recipient).
Still, the damage was done. Politico reported that copies of the Fox special were "distributed by Fox staff to House members" prior to the start of the SNAP debate. The Fox special has reportedly been part of Republican messaging about SNAP and been cited by Republican leaders like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
During his House speech today, Price said that "Fox News is trying to help the Republicans pushing this mean-spirited legislation by focusing on a California surfer who abuses the SNAP system. Well, it's time for a reality check. This isn't about surfer dudes." Price explained that cutting SNAP would affect numerous low-income Americans such as veterans who rely on the program for food assistance.
Watch Price's remarks below:
PRICE: Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this rule and to the underlying bill. You may have noticed Fox News is trying to help the Republicans pushing this mean-spirited legislation by focusing on a California surfer who abuses the SNAP system. Well, it's time for a reality check. This isn't about surfer dudes.
But I tell you one group it is about: our nation's veterans. 50,000 of them to be exact. Let me clarify. These veterans, with an average income of $2,500, would lose benefits immediately. And as the bill's other provisions kick in, as many as 170,000 veterans could lose their SNAP assistance. In Cumberland County, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg and of thousands of veterans, our unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent. This bill requires states to terminate the already minimal food aid available to able-bodied but unemployed individuals living in such high unemployment areas. And by the way, Republicans would also subject these veterans to the added indignity of a drug test. I urge a no vote on this rule and on the underlying bill. It dishonors our poorest veterans, it disparages those the Gospel of Matthew calls "the least of these." I yield back my time.
Fox News' Doug McKelway offered a series of misleading facts about the food stamp program in an effort to defend Republicans from criticisms that their attempt to cut funding for the program would take eligibility away from millions of people.
During a September 19 Happening Now segment on the House Republicans' plan to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), McKelway aired Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) criticizing the proposal by saying the cuts would save money "by snatching food out of the hands of millions of neediest children and their families." McKelway asked, "But would it really?" before claiming the program "has expanded exponentially since President Obama took office" and that the "system is easily abused." McKelway also responded to Reid's criticism by highlighting Fox's Great Food Stamp Binge -- an hour-long special Fox is reportedly distributing to members of Congress in advance of votes on SNAP -- that demonized SNAP recipients and attempted to make a California musician who openly takes advantage of the program "the new face of food stamps":
But despite McKelway's deflection, Reid's criticism was accurate. A report by the Health Impact Project found that SNAP "reduces household food insecurity by 18 to 30 percent," and found that the House Republicans' bill could cause "as many as 5.1 million people" to lose eligibility:
From the September 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
The House Republicans are gearing up to slash nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), knocking up to 3.8 million people off the food stamp rolls over the next two years. As far as benefit programs go, SNAP is pretty effective, and can be indispensable in hard economic times. The Republicans, however, are raising the specter of rampant waste and fraud within the program, and the centerpiece of their PR campaign to cut the program's funding is a terrifically misleading Fox News special from August hosted by Special Report anchor and "straight journalist" Bret Baier.
That special, called "The Great Food Stamp Binge," made a right-wing celebrity out of Jason Greenslate, an unlikeable surfer from San Diego who refuses to work and proudly abuses his SNAP benefits. Greenslate is a rarity. The vast majority of SNAP households (75 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office) have a child, a person over the age of 60, or a disabled person. Greenslate's yearly benefit represents 0.000003 percent of the annual SNAP budget. He is in no way representative of SNAP recipients, and his behavior is atypical -- waste and fraud within the SNAP program is actually pretty rare.
In spite of all this, Greenslate ate up nine minutes of the hour-long special, divided between two segments. Offering no data or fact-based justification of any kind, Baier proclaimed Greenslate "the new face of food stamps." Baier's intention was clear: to create the (false) impression that SNAP is rife with abuse, and to transform Greenslate into a punching bag for conservative politicians and pundits who want to slash the social safety net.
New data reveal persistent, elevated poverty rates in the United States in the wake of recession. The news of economic stagnation among low-income Americans comes at a time when right-wing outlets are leveling attacks on anti-poverty programs and other policies that could raise incomes, drive economic growth, and lift millions of Americans out of poverty.
On September 17, the United States Census Bureau released updated nationwide statistics on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2012. Tens of millions of Americans have seen no positive change in their circumstances from year-to-year. From the press release:
The nation's official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. This marked the second consecutive year that neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the previous year's estimates. The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the economic downturn.
According to Census Bureau data, the poverty rate, which neared all-time lows by 2000, has been on the rise for more than a decade through two distinct periods of recession and recovery.
Despite more than three years of consistent economic growth, and a recovery of the financial sector, millions of Americans remain mired in poverty, where they are often the target of right-wing assaults.
Right-wing media attacks on anti-poverty programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reached new heights in the past year. A misleading Fox News documentary portrayed the alleged abuse of the program by a single California recipient as a harbinger of fraud nationwide. Meanwhile, various Fox personalities have wildly exaggerated actual rates of fraud and abuse. At least one attack on SNAP inflated actual abuse statistics by 5,000 percent.
Although these segments frame a narrative regarding how much the government should cut from these benefit programs, they completely ignore the fact that abuse rates in SNAP and other government benefits are historically low and the economic return on investment is positive. The fact that Fox News, in particular, has begun using its own misleading coverage of benefit abuse as a lobbying and promotional tool to influence members of Congress shows unprecedented legislative influence by the right-wing media in dismantling the social safety net.
Right-wing attacks have also been leveled against proposals to increase the federal minimum wage, an action that would immediately lift millions of workers out of poverty and provide a boost to the economy.
Part of the attack against lifting the minimum wage has consistently focused on the involvement of labor unions. In his preview of the latest poverty data, economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) explained that unionization is one of the best options available to alleviate poverty. His analysis of union activity in OECD countries concludes that higher rates of union membership have a positive impact on lowering poverty rates. Labor unions, via collective bargaining, effectively raise wages and therefore the share of economic productivity distributed to workers. In cases when they are politically active, unions typically promote policies that they believe would benefit other workers, spreading the benefits of unionization to union members and non-members alike. From CEPR:
There are many other important differences that could be important in reducing poverty in these countries. However in almost every case, unions were a major force in advancing the various policies that are associated with lower poverty. It would have been difficult to envision a scenario in which these policies would have been enacted with pressure from unions.
Decreasing union membership is often celebrated by the right-wing as an ideological victory, when it in fact represents an economic policy failure. The right-wing media remain unflinching in their constant attacks on worker mobilization and labor unions.
From the September 13 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes is falsely warning that the USDA is bullying Christian organizations that distribute food to low-income individuals into "choos[ing] between Jesus and cheese," ignoring that religious organizations are allowed to provide social services as long as they comply with federal law.
In a September 9 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes said that the USDA threatened to revoke federal financial assistance from the Christian Service Center, a Christian ministry in Florida, unless the group "removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read 'Jesus is Lord' and stop[ped] giving Bibles to the needy." The sensationalist claim is already being repeated by other right-wing media outlets. From FoxNews.com:
For the past 31 years, the Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Fla. without any problems. But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.
"The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract," [Christian Service Center Executive Director Kay] Daly told me. "They said we could no longer have religious information where the USDA food is being distributed. They told us we had to take that stuff down."
Daly said it's no secret that the Christian Service Center is a Christian ministry.
"We've got pictures of Christ on more than one wall," she said. "It's very clear we are not social services. We are a Christian ministry."
[T]he Christian Service Center had a choice: choose God or the government cheese.
So in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship, Daly politely told the government what they could do with their cheese.
"We decided to eliminate the USDA food and we're going to trust God to provide," she told me. "If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry."
But Starnes is setting up a false choice and one that the ministry is not facing.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto continued to ignore the economic factors driving the growth in poverty while lamenting the increased reliance on nutrition assistance among low-income individuals.
On the September 10 edition of Fox News' Your World, Cavuto and guest Hadley Heath of the right-leaning Independent Women's Forum offered a context-free critique of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to derisively as "food stamps." During their exchange, Cavuto focused his attention on the growth of enrollment in SNAP over the past few years, stating "Americans are eating up food stamps like never before" while lamenting that nearly one in five Americans receives some degree of nutritional assistance.
Once again, the right-wing media proves that it simply has no clue how anti-poverty programs function.
At no point in the segment did Cavuto or Heath make any mention of the catastrophic recession -- from which the economy is still recovering -- that drove millions of Americans into poverty and reliance on government assistance to avoid food insecurity. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nutrition assistance has grown in recent years in response to economic hardship and a weakened recovery. From CBPP:
The recent caseload growth resulted primarily from more households qualifying because of the recession and more eligible households applying for help. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has confirmed that "the primary reason for the increase in the number of participants was the deep recession...and subsequent slow recovery; there were no significant legislative expansions of eligibility."
In addition to whitewashing the effects of the recession on SNAP enrollment, the segment included a misleading graphic, which seems to show a dramatic increase in trafficking, fraud, and abuse in SNAP:
According to the latest trafficking report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
Although trafficking does not represent a cost to the Federal Government, it is a diversion of program benefits. Benefits are intended to help low-income households access a nutritious diet, and trafficking impedes the program's mission and undermines its integrity
The gross value of SNAP trafficking has increased from $330 million in 2006-2008 to $858 million in 2009-2011, according to the USDA. However, the actual rate of trafficking has remained at near historic lows. Fraud and abuse increased from 1.0 percent overall from 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent overall from 2009-2011.
Of course, even these historically low levels of fraud and abuse are fair game in the right-wing media. On the August 19 edition of Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade dramatically exaggerated a 0.3 percentage point increase in the rate of fraud and abuse. On the August 8 edition of Your World, host Eric Bolling questioned the veracity of the most-recently available abuse rate, over-estimating it by 5,000 percent.
Nutrition assistance has long been a favorite object of attack and ridicule in the right-wing media. The continued attacks emboldened the Republican-led House of Representatives to propose cutting $40 billion out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next 10 years, despite the harm it would cause to millions of working Americans, retirees, and children.
As food insecurity remains high, Fox News touted a plan by Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich to impose work requirements on food stamp recipients, despite concerns that Ohio does not have enough jobs to accommodate those who would have their benefits put in jeopardy.
On the September 10 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Martha MacCallum and guest Chris Plante expressed support for Kasich's proposal to require some food stamp recipients to spend 20 hours a week working or engaging in work-related activities such as job training. MacCallum likened the program to college work-study programs, saying, "Nobody thinks that that model is an inappropriate model or an unfair or mean model, so what's wrong with it?" Plante called the program "a reasonable and honest and decent approach to getting people back to work," claiming, "we live in a world now where Democrats, the Democrat party has put themselves in the unfortunate position where they are now incentivized as a political party to keep as many people on the public dole as possible":
But according to The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio officials point out that the availability of jobs and qualifying activities is lower than the number of people who fall under the new requirement:
From the September 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News is peddling its recent misleading special on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to members of Congress in an attempt to influence an upcoming vote on legislation that would cut SNAP benefits by $40 billion. This effort reveals the network's ties to the Republican Party as well as its ongoing campaign to demonize those who accept SNAP benefits.
On August 9, Fox News aired a special investigation into SNAP titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge." The special purported to demonstrate rampant fraud in the program by presenting Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who has exploited of SNAP benefits, as the typical SNAP recipient. In reality, Greenslate bears no resemblance to the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients, many of whom are elderly, children, or rely on the program for a short time while looking for work.
According to recent reporting from Politico, Fox has found a new use for its misleading special, distributing it to members of the House in anticipation of a vote on a bill that would reduce SNAP by $40 billion:
The reductions double the level of 10-year savings previously proposed by the House Agriculture Committee on a bipartisan vote in June. The great fear in the agriculture community is that Cantor is pushing the House so far to the right on the nutrition issue that he will kill any chance of enacting farm legislation before the current law runs out Sept. 30.
Nonetheless, the Virginia Republican has a powerful cast of backers behind his vision of what's being dubbed "Welfare Reform 2.0." The Heritage Foundation, with close ties to Cantor and his top staff, has lent support in the fight. And over the August recess, Fox News aired a sympathetic report entitled "The Great Food Stamp Binge" -- videos of which are now being distributed by Fox staff to House members.
POLITICO inquiries to Fox News regarding the videos have gone unanswered since Saturday. But both Republican and Democratic offices confirmed that copies have been dropped off unsolicited in recent days, and the broadcast has already provided colorful fodder in promoting the Cantor package.
From the August 22 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
Loading the player reg...
From the August 20 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News misleadingly hyped a minor rise in food stamp fraud in an attempt to demonize the program, failing to note it has one of the lowest fraud rates of all federal programs, fraud remains at historically low levels, and the slight increase in fraud reflects an increase in overall enrollment in food supplement initiatives.
On August 15, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new report on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, which found that benefit trafficking -- "when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash to food retailers, often at a discount" -- had risen slightly from 1.0 percent of total SNAP benefits in 2006-2008 to just 1.3 percent in 2009-2011.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade hyped this minor difference on the August 19 edition of Fox & Friends, focusing on the change in fraud levels while failing to report how little fraud was found in the program:
KILMEADE: 30 percent. That's how many more Americans, according to a new study, are selling food stamps for cash illegally. No, Steve, that's not legal. Nearly 48 million people receive food stamps. The program costs $80 billion a year.
In fact, according to the USDA, SNAP benefit trafficking has "remained relatively steady at approximately one cent on the dollar," and the program "continues to have one of the lowest fraud rates for Federal programs." Furthermore, rates of trafficking have declined since the 90s and the current rate of trafficking remains near historic lows:
According to the USDA, a "substantial portion" of the minor rise in benefit trafficking "is due to the growth in the program," as the total number of SNAP benefits jumped during the recent economic crisis from $36 billion in 2008 to $73 billion in 2011. The USDA also noted that the rise is partly due to the increased number of small and medium-sized businesses which are authorized to accept SNAP benefits, as small retailers accounted for 85 percent of the fraudulent redemptions identified.
The USDA has taken steps to decrease the small amount of SNAP benefit fraud, including permanently disqualifying over 1000 retailers that engaged in trafficking, suspending retailers suspected of serious fraud, more frequently reviewing high-risk retailers, and cracking down on fraud online.
Kilmeade's misleading report is just another example of how Fox News has shamelessly misrepresented the SNAP program and its beneficiaries in an effort to demonize food assistance and malign low-income Americans.