On the October 19 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh baselessly suggested that more than $500 million in proposed cuts to the food stamps program would be harmless because the money was not being used anyway. After reading from an October 19 New York Times article about the Senate agriculture committee's decision to shelve the proposal "that could have cut off food stamps to an estimated 300,000 people," Limbaugh added this phrase: "who aren't using them anyway." But as news accounts have made clear, the 300,000 people who stood to lose their benefits are current food stamp recipients.
A transcript (subscription required) of the segment posted on Limbaugh's website makes clear that the "who aren't using them anyway" comment is not part of the Times story. On his show, however, Limbaugh did not alert listeners to the fact that the comment was his own.
In any case, Limbaugh's claim was baseless. An October 13 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette explained that the proposed food stamp cuts would have changed eligibility rules "so that those who qualify for state welfare assistance will no longer automatically qualify for food stamps" and instead would have to meet the federal means test applied to other food stamp recipients. According to Senate agriculture committee spokesman Keith Williams, that change would have pushed as many as 300,000 people off of food stamps.
An October 6 Associated Press article offered a similar assessment of the proposed cuts:
The $574 million cut in food stamps would come from restricting access to this benefit for certain families that, because they receive other government assistance, receive food stamps without going through the application process. The restriction would shut an estimated 300,000 people out of the program. [Sen. Saxby] Chambliss' [R-GA] spokesman said the change would apply to families that do not meet eligibility requirements and that eligible families still will receive food stamps.
And an October 18 Associated Press article reported that Chambliss, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, "dropped more than $500 million in food stamp cuts from a farm and food subsidy measure. The cuts could have meant a loss of benefits for 300,000 working families."
Limbaugh appears to have misleadingly conflated the proposed food stamp cuts with an unrelated Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) study. The study, which looked at 25 urban areas, found that 2.9 million people who would likely qualify for food stamps did not enroll in the program because of language barriers, a lack of public awareness, ineffective distribution policies, and other factors. FRAC estimated that as a result, $2.1 billion in potential federally funded food stamp benefits went unclaimed in 2003. Limbaugh previously cited an Associated Press article about FRAC's study -- as well as the October 6 Associated Press article on the proposed food stamp cuts -- on his October 6 show.
From the October 19 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: Let me share with you a story that infuriates me. It's in The New York Times, so until I can confirm this is true, we'll have to just go on the assumption that it's true because it's in The New York Times. Here's the headline: "Senate Panel Drops Plan to Cut Back Food Program." We talked about this last week. They wanted to cut some $500 billion, or $500 million from the food stamp program, from other programs, because the money wasn't being used anyway. They're advertising for the food stamp program. It wasn't a cut anyway. It's just a cut in how much more money was going to be spent. Well, here's the story -- and again, they say this is from The New York Times. "Fearing a backlash over spending reductions that could be portrayed as singling out the poor, a Senate panel on Tuesday dropped plans to cut the food stamp program by more than $500 million, as Congress embarked on a contentious round of budget cuts. Keith Williams, a spokesman for the agriculture committee, said the action came at the request of several committee members who had reservations about an effort that could have cut off food stamps to an estimated 300,000 people," who aren't using them, anyway. So we can't even cut $500 million; do you know that is not even a measurable percentage of the $2.6 trillion we're spending? We can't even cut $500 million that's not even being used? Our story last week pointed out how $2 billion wasn't being used, and they were trying to sign more people up for the food stamp program. We weren't even trying to eliminate the total amount of money not being used, just 25 percent of it -- and, lo and behold, here comes some critics: "You are being cold-hearted to the poor."