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.
Fox's Bill O'Reilly and John Stossel forwarded the notion that government assistance does not lift Americans out of poverty, a claim directly contradicted by evidence.
On the September 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host O'Reilly and Fox Business' Stossel discussed persistent and rising income inequality in the U.S. During the segment, Stossel and O'Reilly railed against government anti-poverty measures, with Stossel claiming that government makes "poverty worse with these programs" and that "we should get rid of most of government and allow poor people to become rich."
Stossel's claim about government programs not lifting Americans out of poverty is directly contradicted by evidence released hours before he made the claim.
On September 17, the Census Bureau released its annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2012. While the report showed the poverty rate remained unchanged from 2011, it also highlighted the effectiveness of government anti-poverty programs.
According to the report, if government noncash payments -- such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits -- were taken into account when calculating the poverty rate, millions of Americans would be lifted above the official poverty threshold. From the report:
- 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.
Furthermore, as Sharon Parrott, vice president for budget policy and economic opportunity at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes, those who weren't lifted out of poverty by SNAP benefits -- also known as food stamps -- were made significantly less poor. The data from the latest Census report reaffirms SNAP as one of the most effective anti-poverty programs.
Fox's misleading campaign against anti-poverty programs -- particularly SNAP -- comes at a critical time. House Republicans plan to decrease funding for the program by nearly $40 billion over ten years, resulting in at least 3.8 million adults and children losing food assistance. The network has even inserted itself into the legislative push against SNAP, distributing its wildly inaccurate documentary on the program to Republican members of congress.
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 hosts Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera cited a U.S. census study which found that many poor Americans own appliances to paint entitlement recipients as lazy or unwilling to work. This analysis ignores the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans receiving entitlements are elderly, disabled, or were members of working households.
On the September 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly and Rivera claimed that government benefits are creating a disincentive for work. Rivera concluded that "it's one thing to be poor in India or even Mexico, it's another thing to be poor, according to these statistics, in the United States":
O'Reilly's attempt to demonize poor Americans as lazy, comfortable, or unwilling to work mischaracterizes the vast majority of Americans who receive benefits. According to a 2012 report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 9 out of 10 Americans receiving entitlement benefits were either elderly, seriously disabled, or members of a working household in 2010:
91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled -- and do not live in a working household -- received only 9 percent of the benefits.
Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.
O'Reilly's segment on poverty in American also dismissed a September 3 report which found that income inequality is wider than it has been in almost a century. Rivera acknowledged the report but downplayed its findings, reasoning that government entitlements create a disincentive for the poor to work and "bootstrap themselves."
Contrary to O'Reilly and Rivera's claims, the CBPP also notes that the safety net has become more work-based, as the United States has significantly reduced assistance to the jobless poor and increased assistance to low-income working families. Programs like SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and Medicaid have done much more to promote work over the last 30 years. For example, the EITC has boosted employment among single mothers and has produced large declines in the number of single mothers receiving welfare.
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:
A new inspector general report documenting overpayments in farm subsidies challenges Fox News' reporting on the farm bill, which has focused on demagogouing food stamps and their recipients.
Fox has endlessly campaigned against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade attacked the program after another USDA report showed the rate of food stamp trafficking, or selling benefits for cash, had risen from 1.0 percent in 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent in 2009-2011. Fox also produced a special report titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge" that focused on the story of a California musician who takes advantage of SNAP benefits, explicitly attempting to make the musician "the new face of food stamps." Fox is reportedly distributing copies of the special to members of Congress in anticipation of a vote on a bill that would reduce SNAP funding.
A report by the Department of Agriculture's inspector general showed the USDA "paid out $20.3 million more than it should have last year to farmers and other aid recipients," according to Politico. The article went on to report that "the USDA sent out more money than it should have for subsidies and that other farmer assistance rose by 67 percent in 2012."
Food stamps and farm subsidies have historically been contained within the same bill, but earlier this year Republicans led an effort to cut SNAP from the bill, a move that Fox defended but which could jeopardize the program's survival.
The low rate of fraud and abuse in the SNAP program -- which kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011 -- has not stopped Fox from regularly attacking the program. Given its history, don't expect the network to devote anywhere near the same amount of coverage to farm bill overpayments that have nothing to do with SNAP.
From the August 31 edition of Fox News' Cashin' In:
Loading the player reg...
Responding to yesterday's strike by fast food workers across the country seeking better working conditions and a living wage, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly decided their own stories of working low-wage jobs would do these workers more good.
Limbaugh told his audience about his former job selling tickets for the Kansas City Royals in 1979. That year he was paid $12,000. Limbaugh claimed on that income he "couldn't afford [his] house payment and food." For a family of two -- Limbaugh was married to his first wife at the time -- his income was nearly three times the 1978 baseline federal poverty level of $4,366 and nearly double the poverty line for a family of four, $6,612.
As Limbaugh himself pointed out, his $12,000 salary was the equivalent of $38,610.91 in today's dollars. Currently the poverty threshold for a two-person family sits at $15,510, less than half of Limbaugh's converted salary. The poverty line for a family of four is $23,550.
The workers Limbaugh was lecturing? Their median yearly salary is $18,500, barely above the poverty line for a family of two and $4,500 below the threshold for a family of four.
Limbaugh's experience in 1979 was vastly different than the one faced by low-wage workers today. Limbaugh concluded by claiming that "life is life and we all have self-determination and Martin Luther King understood it."
One of the demands of the 1963 March on Washington was a $2 per hour minimum wage, which according the Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI inflation calculator is the equivalent of $15.27 in today's dollars -- nearly exactly what the workers going on strike yesterday were demanding.
Bill O'Reilly began with his story of scooping ice cream for minimum wage in his teenage years. In 1966, when O'Reilly was 17-years old, the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour or $9.01 in today's dollars -- nearly 24 percent more than minimum wage workers currently make -- putting a then-single O'Reilly well above the 1966 poverty line and nearly reaching the threshold for a family of four. Perhaps O'Reilly should return that 24 percent because according to his rant, guaranteeing a wage is "called socialism" and "the USA is a capitalist country."
Limbaugh and O'Reilly are two white men blessed with amazing communications ability. Neither was born wealthy but they were both able to parlay their talents, combined with some luck, into the upper economic echelons. From those heights they look down at the bottom opposing the concept that employers should pay a living wage and at the same time opposing food stamps, public housing, and other programs that would help bridge the gap for low-income workers. They offer no policy solutions other than if you're not making enough to get by, get another job.
From a position of extreme privilege, they point to their lowly beginnings and ask workers to survive on the same incomes they did. If only those who went out on strike yesterday were fortunate enough to receive the modern-day equivalent of the wages they did.
The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore attacked striking fast-food workers' demands to increase the minimum wage by falsely claiming that such a raise would result in less teenage employment and more workplace automation.
Moore, a senior economics writer for the Journal, appeared on the August 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto to discuss the fast-food protests that are underway across the country. Moore claimed that strikers' demands, if met, would result in "a lot less teenagers hired for those kinds of jobs" and fast-food restaurants deciding to "substitute workers with machines and automated things":
Moore's claim that a higher minimum wage would negatively affect teenage employment is baseless. The Huffington Post quoted University of California, Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto, who was the lead author of a 2011 study on minimum wage and teen employment, explaining that those who "fight such [minimum wage] hikes, arguing that higher wages discourage growth, particularly in down economies" are not supported by her research:
Fox's Charles Payne attempted to discredit fast-food workers' planned attempt to organize for union representation and a higher minimum wage by falsely claiming workers are arguing for a sliding scale of extra income.
Neil Cavuto hosted Fox Business contributor Charles Payne on the August 28 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto to discuss protests planned by fast-food workers, who are demanding higher pay and the right to unionize. Payne claimed during the segment that employers don't owe a debt to their employees and mischaracterized the minimum wage increase as a sliding scale of pay:
PAYNE: Listen, I don't begrudge anyone for trying to earn extra money, but what they're essentially saying is that their salary should be doubled from where they are. It doesn't match the skill set. Now, if we start to talk about this -- and listen, it's something that's been echoed all day long with theme of the March on Washington -- that somehow corporations owe a debt to people who work for them. So if Susan has two kids, she gets X amount of income, then she has another child, then the corporation should pay more money specifically because they owe her a debt and she had another kid -- sort of the responsibility or the welfare state that's been such a burden on America is now being thrusted, or attempted to be thrusted on the shoulders of corporate America.
But workers aren't demanding a sliding scale of income. They're organizing for fair representation at work and a single minimum wage increase. As Ezra Klein explained: "most workers have less power to negotiate raises than they did a generation ago":
Fox News falsely claimed that the Lifeline program to provide low-income Americans with cell phone access is funded by taxpayers. In fact, it's funded entirely by fees charged to phone providers and other telecommunications companies, some of which pass on the costs to customers' phone bills.
On Fox & Friends August 27, Gretchen Carlson interviewed Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley about the Lifeline program, which according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income consumers to help ensure they have the opportunities and security that telephone service affords, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and 911 services." The program also pays for free cell phones for some low-income Americans.
During the segment, both Carlson and Finley falsely asserted that the Lifeline program is taxpayer-funded, referring to it as an "entitlement program." On-screen text also pushed this false claim:
Despite these claims, often repeated by Fox News, the Lifeline program is not funded by taxpayers or the U.S. Treasury. As FactCheck.org noted in May 2012, "Lifeline is funded by telecom customers who pay a universal service fee as part of their phone bills. The fee technically is not a tax but a cross subsidy, the rules of which are determined by the Federal Communications Commission." The article further noted that the U.S. Treasury "does not collect or handle the funds" collected by the universal service fee.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services further explained how the fee is assessed:
All telecommunications service providers and certain other providers of telecommunications must contribute to the federal USF based on a percentage of their interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues. These companies include wireline phone companies, wireless phone companies, paging service companies, and certain Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers.
Some consumers may notice a "Universal Service" line item on their telephone bills. This line item appears when a company chooses to recover its USF contributions directly from its customers by billing them this charge. The FCC does not require this charge to be passed on to customers. Each company makes a business decision about whether and how to assess charges to recover its Universal Service costs. These charges usually appear as a percentage of the consumer's phone bill. Companies that choose to collect Universal Service fees from their customers cannot collect an amount that exceeds their contribution to the USF. They also cannot collect any fees from a Lifeline program participant.
Carlson's disregard for the facts was in direct contrast to her insistence, less than an hour before on Fox & Friends, that it was her Fox colleagues' "responsibility as journalists to try and keep the bar up high on intelligence to try and inform people of what's going on in the world."
From the August 26 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...