A report from Feeding America on food insecurity and food costs in the United States sheds new light on the real targets of the conservative media's crusade against food stamps.
Conservative media often rush to baselessly condemn those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, as lazy or taking advantage of the system, but the truth is that these programs help feed millions of Americans who would otherwise go hungry.
In 2013, Fox News shamelessly promoted "blissfully jobless California surfer" Jason Greenslate as the "new face of food stamps," and in April the network again attacked the program by portraying a couple living in a yacht and fraudulently collecting benefits as representative of the norm.
But these attacks are out of touch with the reality that almost 41% of recipients live in a household with earnings, and according to the USDA program fraud is below one cent on the dollar.
Feeding America's report on the county and congressional district level food insecurity and county food costs in the United States paints a startlingly different picture of the food insecure than the one the right-wing media typically pushes. Feeding America found that more than 49 million* people in the United States are food-insecure, meaning that they have "limited or uncertain access to adequate food," and that 16 million of those people are children. On average, about 71% of the food-insecure throughout the country fall below 185% of the poverty line, making them eligible to receive SNAP benefits.
In September 2013, Politico reported that Fox distributed copies of its misleading food stamp special to members of Congress during the August recess, and Fox's portrayal of Greenslate was prominently featured in GOP talking points. When Congress reconvened, conservatives in the House voted to cut $39 billion from the program. According to NBC News, food insecurity has been exacerbated by the cuts to program and have left many Americans unable to feed their families:
"The recession has subsided for most Americans but it still hasn't subsided for low-income Americans. Their situation just has not improved," he said, adding that it was "probably worse now" because a temporary funding boost in 2009 to the key government food aid program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was allowed to lapse by Congress last year.
"It seems like we are stacking the deck against" low-income people, said Everett, who was recently named to the congressional National Commission on Hunger. "We're missing rungs at the bottom of the (economic) ladder to be able to help people to get to the top."
*Number has been updated for accuracy
From the April 21 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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From Fox News' Hannity special, The Power of Faith:
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From the April 15 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Over the past year, broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to mention the role of reduced taxes on the wealthy as a cause of inequality, despite the fact that economists view taxes as a primary driver of income gaps.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the first quarter of 2014. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA and the minimum wage are causes of poor job growth.
Fox News may have found a new poster child for its campaign to smear recipients of government assistance like food stamps.
For more than a year, Fox has promoted "blissfully jobless California surfer" Jason Greenslate as representative of recipients of government assistance. Fox first featured Greenslate in August 2013 during a special titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge," and has returned to him repeatedly as "the new face of food stamps" in "Obama's America," "representative of literally millions of Americans" who defraud the food stamp program (officially called SNAP).
Predictably, the network jumped at the opportunity to concoct a new poster child to food stamps when news broke that an affluent Minnesota couple were wanted for defrauding public assistance benefits in Minnesota. The couple -- since arrested in Florida -- allegedly received over $160,000 in state benefits like food stamps while living on a $1.2 million yacht with millions in assets.
Fox host Neil Cavuto and network legal analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped the story on March 31 and blamed the fraud on the size of government assistance programs, saying "we shouldn't be surprised when the numbers get this big that fraud pops up." According to Napolitano, the government "willy nilly gives this money away without verifying who's receiving it," while Cavuto agreed that the government is not "following whose getting this money and whether they're all genuinely deserving of it":
Fox News' Dana Perino falsely claimed that the Affordable Care Act would be responsible for deepening income inequality in the United States and would hurt low-income families.
The co-hosts of Fox News' The Five attacked the ACA on the last day of open enrollment in the law's health care exchanges. Amid reports that a last-minute surge had brought enrollment over 6 million people, Perino declared that the law "exacerbates income inequality" and will "end up hurting low-income people":
PERINO: My big concern from the beginning on this, on the bigger picture Tom that you were talking about, is actually how it exacerbates income inequality. And it actually will end up hurting low-income people a lot more because as we've seen in the last few weeks you have more and more doctors deciding not to take insurance at all and not to take Medicaid patients, and they're not going to be told that they have to.
Perino's claim is absurd for a number of reasons. A January 2014 study by the Brookings Institution found that the Affordable Care Act will boost the incomes of Americans in the second-lowest income decile by more than 5 percent and those in the bottom income decile by more than 7 percent:
Perino's suggestion that the ACA will cause doctors to refuse Medicaid patients is also dubious. The ACA expands Medicaid eligibility for adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson foundation estimated that the expanded eligibility meant that about 15.1 million uninsured adults could gain coverage. The ACA also increases certain payments to health care providers, a change that Wonkblog pointed out could "entice more providers to participate":
That could mean that the states with the highest likelihood of expanding Medicaid might be those with the lower reimbursement rates - and fewer doctors willing to accept these patients by proxy. That could prove true in a state like California, where 1.8 million residents are expected to gain coverage - but fewer than 60 percent of providers accept new patients in the program.
It could also speak to the importance of some of the payment increases in the Affordable Care Act. The law increases Medicaid reimbursements for primary care doctors to match those of Medicare providers. That means that everyone on the right side of this chart will move over to the left. And that could entice more providers to participate. Decker estimates using this data set that it would raise the Medicaid participation rate to 78.6 percent, an 8.6 percent increase from where it stood in 2011.
From the March 26 edition of MSNBC's All In:
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Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) condemned Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's "divisive" remarks labeling her a "race hustler" in a statement released Wednesday.
In a March 26 statement, Lee responded to O'Reilly description of her as a "race hustler" and called for an end to the use of such language in the national discourse. Lee was attacked by O'Reilly for her reaction to comments by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that blamed poverty on a "real culture problem" he said persisted "in our inner cities" where men were not "learning the value and the culture of work." Lee took offense to those comments as a "thinly veiled racial attack." She called O'Reilly's comments "disgusting and divisive" and said that they "should never be accepted in our national discourse."
During the March 25 edition of Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly attempted to defend the remarks made by Ryan by attacking Lee and accused her of exploiting Ryan's comment for political gain, deeming her a "race hustler" (emphasis added):
O'REILLY: So I understand you had a phone call with Ms. Lee. How did that go?
RYAN: Well, I have known Barbara for many years. Look, there was nothing racial whatsoever in what I said. And if you listen to the full context of all of my remarks, it's pretty clear. So what I would like to do and I mentioned this is, let's get beyond throwing baseless charges at people. Let's not impugn people's motives or characters and let's have a real conversation about what we really need to do [[is]] to truly fight poverty in America. If the status quo was working so well, then we wouldn't have to do that. It's not.
O'REILLY: They don't want a conversation. With all due respect to you because I think you are a good man. They don't want a conversation. They don't want to solve the problem. These race hustlers make a big living, and they get voted into office, by portraying their constituents as victims, and it's all your fault and it's my fault, it's the rich people's fault, it's the Republicans' fault. It's everybody's fault except what's going on. And what's going on, as you know, is the dissolution of the family, and you don't have proper supervision of children, and they grow up with no skills, and they can't read and speak, and they have tattoos on their neck, and they can't compete in the marketplace. And that is what is going on. But if you say that you are a racist. So, no matter what you say congressman, you are going to be branded because the race hustlers don't want to solve the problem, how's that?
A national coalition of organizations has signed a letter to four major broadcast network heads expressing their concern over the failure of broadcast evening news programs to note the public cost of low wages.
A recently released Media Matters report found that over the past year, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have been largely silent about the burden that low minimum wages place on the financial security of public safety net programs. The report found that from March 1, 2013, through March 10, 2014, the networks only mentioned the reliance of minimum wage workers on federal, state, and local anti-poverty programs such as food assistance and welfare programs eight times, with PBS providing the majority.
22 national organizations that advocate on behalf of the millions of workers that would benefit from a minimum wage increase wrote the heads of the broadcast networks to express their "deep concern" over coverage of "the impact of low minimum wages on hard-working Americans, their families, and our country":
When it comes to growing our economy and improving the livelihoods of workers, it's increasingly imperative that your evening news programs cover the cost of inaction. Because of low wages, many workers in the fast food industry alone -- many of whom make wages at or just above the current minimum wage -- are forced to rely on government assistance to the tune of almost $7 billion annually. Additionally, a recent analysis found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce necessary spending on food stamps by $4.6 billion annually.
Your evening news programs reach millions of Americans every night and frequently set the tone for how this issue is debated at the kitchen table, state legislatures, and the Halls of Congress. We urge you to correct this oversight and hope you will take greater action in the future to ensure that these programs tell the full story. We are happy to meet with you to discuss ways to make your minimum wage coverage more informative.
The full letter can be read below:
Fox News is once again pining for the days when more work came with less pay, claiming that expanding overtime pay protections "undercuts work ethic."
The knee-jerk reaction that amending existing policy to help workers is somehow harmful to the American work ethic is a common theme at the network, and has been brought up to undermine the minimum wage, disparage the Affordable Care Act, and demonize vital assistance programs.
Watch Fox hearken back to a bygone era when worker protections weren't impeding the American Dream:
Jon Stewart is calling out Fox News for creating "a narrative that ties people's poverty to their own lack of virtue," pushing back on Fox host Eric Bolling's campaign to "school" Stewart.
Bolling challenged Stewart on the March 8 edition of Fox's Cashin' In, calling The Daily Show host "a dummy" and purporting to lecture Stewart on the realities of food stamps abuse. According to Bolling, "Food stamps aren't just used for food. A lot of clowns are withdrawing cash from the EBT cards then spending in on things like booze, weed, and lap dancers." Bolling then challenged Stewart to a debate.
Stewart responded on The Daily Show Thursday night, highlighting the way that Fox uses anecdotes to paint a distorted picture of poverty in America. "What we were ridiculing was the way you exaggerate the scope of public assistance abuse through random, often unprovable anecdotes, hour-long specials, and, for some reason, this hand bursting through the heart of America," Stewart said.
Stewart noted how Fox has focused at least six separate segments to a California surfer who admits to abusing the system, part of the cable channel's campaign to create what Stewart called "the very balanced narrative that ties people's poverty to their own lack of virtue and says that programs created to serve the impoverished are, in fact, the reason they are still impoverished."
Stewart also highlighted the fact that while Bolling and other Fox hosts and commentators often criticize spending on public assistance, they have defended tax breaks for corporations that cost more than the alleged waste in public assistance programs. He added that the EBT card program in many states is operated by JPMorgan Chase.
Fox News host Jon Scott dismissed President Obama's efforts to raise the minimum wage and strengthen overtime pay protections for millions of workers as a distraction from the economy -- an unusual sentiment, given that experts believe both measures would have a stimulative effect on the economy.
On March 13, President Obama used his executive authority to direct the Labor Department to change standards in order to increase the number of salaried workers who qualify for overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. From The New York Times:
Under the new rules that Mr. Obama is seeking, fewer salaried employees could be blocked from receiving overtime, a move that would potentially shift billions of dollars' worth of corporate income into the pockets of workers. Currently, employers are prohibited from denying time-and-a-half overtime pay to any salaried worker who makes less than $455 per week. Mr. Obama's directive would significantly increase that salary level.
In addition, Mr. Obama will try to change rules that allow employers to define which workers are exempt from receiving overtime based on the kind of work they perform. Under current rules, if an employer declares that an employee's primary responsibility is executive, such as overseeing a cleanup crew, then that worker can be exempted from overtime.
On the March 13 edition of Fox's Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott questioned whether raising the minimum wage would be "sufficient to distract people from the jobs and the economy and maybe Obamacare." In a later discussion with Washington Times columnist Charlie Hurt, Scott derided President Obama's plans to strengthen overtime pay protections as a "political tactic" meant to "score political points." Hurt agreed, and concluded that, like raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime pay rules "doesn't really help the economy in any great way":
Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.