Fox News hosts absurdly claimed that the opportunity to register to vote while applying for food stamps entrenches voters in a "cycle of dependency." But most food stamp participants remain on the program for limited periods of time, and the voter registration inclusion is a national policy that has been in place for decades.
On March 22, Fox hosts Stuart Varney and Steve Doocy used a discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, to forward the Republican myth that the program generates a culture of dependency that locks liberal governments into positions of power. Discussing the use of SNAP benefits in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, both hosts mocked the voter registration option on SNAP applications, ignoring the fact that it has been national policy since 1993 to allow the opportunity to register to vote at state offices that handle public benefits.
DOOCY: Extraordinarily, a third of the people in that entire city, a third, are on food stamps. And what's happened now, the cycle of dependency, first the people were relying on the food stamps and now the businesses rely on the people with the food stamps. So without the food stamps, the businesses would go belly up.
DOOCY: And Stuart, Rhode Island is a very liberal state. We know that, we've talked about that before. [...] You were telling me about when you apply for a SNAP card, what do they do?
VARNEY: Well, the mayor of Woonsocket, this Leo Fontaine, his honor, he held up the food stamp application forms and he went through it, he showed them it; this is what you get when you apply for food stamps. And then he turned to the back of the package of papers, there is a voter registration form.
DOOCY: Of course!
VARNEY: So you sign up to vote at the same time you sign up for food stamps.
VARNEY: And you are encouraged thereby, I believe, to go out and vote for the party, vote for the politician that continues the food stamp program.
DOOCY: Complete circle.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, the SNAP program has proven successful at stabilizing families during tough times, and helps facilitate the transition to self-sufficiency. The USDA also reported that half of all new participants leave the program in under nine months.
Additionally, the USDA has reported that "41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings," and "for most of these households, earnings were the primary source of income." According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CPBB), in 2010, more than three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on federal benefits for their income. The share of SNAP families with children and an earned income has remained stable during the recession, and the program's number of participants is projected to decline in the coming decade. The SNAP program also includes a special work requirement for adults who are able to work and are without dependents.
From the CBPP:
Fox's fearmongering over supposed "dependency" in Rhode Island is a shot in the dark at best. The option to register to vote while applying for SNAP benefits was implemented as part of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the motor-voter law, which required all states to allow voter registration at offices that manage federal benefits, in addition to DMV offices. Additionally, The New York Times noted in 2010:
It is worth remembering that the recession has brought millions of new people to food stamp and other welfare offices in the last two years, many of whom may not be traditional Democrats. In addition, government offices are much more likely to provide reliable registrations than Acorn or other advocacy groups that were widely accused of fraudulent sign-ups in the last cycle. Welfare offices generally have extensive methods of verifying identities in order to provide benefits, and it is illegal to provide false records there.