Citing a controversial proposal by a Republican mayor in Maine to publish the contact information of people who receive public assistance, a guest on Fox News called for more shaming of welfare recipients and was enthusiastically supported by Fox host Steve Doocy. The proposal, which would be illegal, is aimed at reducing welfare fraud, which is already extremely rare. It was just the latest example of how Fox News tries to shame welfare recipients.
Republican Mayor In Maine Wants To Publish Names And Addresses Of Welfare Recipients
Lewiston Mayor Pushes To List Names And Addresses Of People On Public Assistance. Republican mayor Robert Macdonald of Lewiston, Maine called on the state legislature to pass a bill creating a website to list the name of everyone in the state who receives public assistance, their home address, and the length of time they have been receiving assistance. From an article in The Washington Post:
If you receive government assistance in the state of Maine, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald thinks the public has a right to know about it.
In a Thursday column for the Twin City Times, Macdonald said a bill will be submitted during Maine's next legislative session “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.”
He added: “After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.”
Macdonald, a local Republican mayor who is up for reelection in November, can't submit a state bill himself, so he would need a state lawmaker to back the plan in the legislature.
In his column Thursday, he wrote that Maine has a Web site listing the pension amounts individuals receive -- something “taxpayers have a right to know,” he said -- and wondered why welfare recipients' information isn't also publicly posted.
“The answer: our liberal, progressive legislators and their social-service allies have made them a victimized, protected class,” Macdonald wrote. “It's none of your business how much of your money they get and spend. Who are you to question it? Just shut up and pay!” [The Washington Post, 9/24/15]
Fox News' Steve Doocy Agrees With Guest Who Endorses “Shaming The People Who Are Sitting On Welfare”
Seton Motley: Proposal Will Help “Track ... Widespread Welfare Abuse.” On the September 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Seton Motley, the president of Less Government, claimed that the website proposed by the mayor in Maine would allow “the taxpayer” to “keep a better eye on who is abusing the system.” Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress pointed out that raising incomes, not public shaming, is a better way of reducing the use of public assistance programs, but her critique was quickly disregarded by both Doocy and Motley:
SETON MOTLEY: [G]overnment does a terrible job of tracking how they spend our money. If we publish the welfare recipients we'll track it. We know there's widespread welfare abuse. Government doesn't seem to care to do anything about reigning it in. If the American taxpayers, who are paying the freight, know who is getting welfare they can keep a better eye on who is abusing the system et cetera and perhaps we can do some real serious welfare reform.
STEVE DOOCY (HOST): Okay, Rebecca, the key to what he just said were the people who are abusing the system. There are some people, you know, we all know abuse the system, they go on it for years. But there are others, you know, who run into a tough spot and they might have to go on public assistance for a while. What's the matter with putting the list out there of the people who are winding up with money out of the taxpayers' pocket?
REBECCA VALLAS: Thanks so much, Steve. The real shame here is that our minimum wage in this country is a poverty wage, and the fact is, it's not enough anymore to lift a family of three out of poverty. We've got families across the United States who are working families who have to turn to public assistance like food stamps in order to keep food on the table. And so if we're serious about shrinking spending on public assistance, then what we really should be doing is raising the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would actually save $53 billion in food stamps over the next 10 years. That's the way to get people off public assistance.
DOOCY: Seton, it sounds like she would like to see a list of the employers who are paying less than $15 an hour, which is different than the list of people on welfare.
MOTLEY: Yeah, once again let's shame the people who are creating jobs rather than, you know, shaming the people who are sitting on welfare. And of course she's got half the table right on raising the minimum wage. Of course, the number of people on assistance will explode because of all the jobs that will be killed by a resulting, as a result of the raising of the minimum wage. The problem is, a family of three is not supposed to be living on a minimum wage. If you are making minimum wage you shouldn't be having children and being on, and trying to raise a family on it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/28/15]
Media Calls Out Public List Proposal As Illegal, Reports That “Welfare Fraud” Is Exaggerated
ThinkProgress: “Shaming Beneficiaries Of Federal Assistance Programs By Depriving Them Of Privacy Is Illegal.” An article from ThinkProgress points out that publishing the name and address of welfare recipients violates their right to privacy, which is protected by federal law:
Shaming beneficiaries of federal assistance programs by depriving them of their privacy is illegal, according to state Rep. Drew Gattine (D), who chairs the House committee that would likely field Macdonald's requests. “There are specific provisions in federal law that would prohibit the posting of that information,” Gattine told the Bangor Daily News. [ThinkProgress, 9/25/15]
Bangor Daily News: Federal Privacy Laws Make Proposed Online Registry Illegal. In an article in the Bangor Daily News, Maine Democratic State Rep. Drew Gattine, who serves as a co-chair on the Health and Human Services committee, said that even if Mayor Macdonald's proposal forced a change in state privacy laws, federal privacy laws would prevail and prevent the information he seeks to publicize from being released:
Gattine noted that the vast number of those receiving welfare benefits are usually not on the programs for long periods of time. He also said the key targets for conservative welfare reforms -- usually single adults without children -- are among those who spend the shortest period of time on welfare programs unless they are disabled or elderly.
Gattine said his primary concern with the proposal outlined in Macdonald's column is it would conflict with both state and federal laws.
“There are specific provisions in federal law that would prohibit the posting of that information,” Gattine said. He said that while state lawmakers could change state law, there was little they could do to change federal law. [Bangor Daily News, 9/24/15]
Portland Press Herald: SNAP Fraud Is Less Than 1 Percent In Maine. According to a February 2013 article in the Portland Press Herald, federal welfare fraud is committed by only about 1 percent of recipients, the same percentage that occurs with state aid in Maine, and only amounts to about $3.7 million of a $372 million annual program. [Portland Press Herald, 2/15/13]
Fox News Has A Long History Of Trying To Shame Welfare Recipients
Fox's Brit Hume: Those In Poverty Are “Responsible For That By The Choices They Make.” On the May 17 edition of Fox News' MediaBuzz, Fox's senior political analyst Brit Hume criticized comments made by President Obama in a speech on poverty in which he criticized Fox News' coverage of poverty. Hume proved Obama's point by faulting the president for not recognizing that people in poverty are there because of the choices they make:
BRIT HUME: I also think that he has a particular viewpoint on these issues where you never hear him suggest that the people who live in these terrible conditions are in any way responsible for that by the choices they make. [Fox News, MediaBuzz, 5/17/15]
Fox Guest: "There Are An Awful Lot Of [Poor] People Who Are Slobs, Drunks, [And] Drug Addicts." On the May 19 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, frequent Fox guest Ben Stein said “an awful lot” of welfare recipients are “dumber people” who simply need to “develop better habits”:
BEN STEIN: There has never been a case in history where a poor person who is a slovenly, uneducated, lazy, undisciplined drug addict got to be rich because of some wealthy person being taxed. It's fine with me --
NEIL CAVUTO (HOST): Wait, wait, wait. I just want to be clear Ben Stein is not saying that all poor people are slovenly.
STEIN: No, no, no, not at all, not at all, many are fine, and incredibly hard working people and I love them and by the way, I work with them when I go to Walmart, and they're great, great people. But there are an awful lot of people who are slobs, drunks, drug addicts. No plan is going to help them. Their own discipline, their own willingness to get an education, that will help them. Taking away from the rich is not going to help them. By the way, it's fine with me if they take away from the rich. I sign my income tax check with a smile, but I don't -- but I don't think it's going to make the poor rich.
STEIN: If you took all that money and gave it to the dumber people who are way below the poverty line, they'll be better off for a little while, but unless they can develop better habits of life they are not going to be better off at all. Any person in this country who works hard, gets a decent education and really, really is disciplined can become a middle-class person unless he's physically or mentally disabled. It doesn't happen by taking away from the rich. It happens by the efforts of the individual person in America. Self-discipline, reliance upon self, reliance upon hard work -- that's what makes it happen. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 5/19/15]
Bill O'Reilly Blames Poor Americans' Choices For Their Poverty. On a January, 2014 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor that covered the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's 1964 War On Poverty -- which created landmark social legislation like food stamps and Medicaid -- Fox host Bill O'Reilly cited research from the conservative Heritage Foundation to diminish the legacy of federal assistance programs. O'Reilly claimed poverty is caused by poor choices and behavior and has nothing to do with “an unfair economic system”:
BILL O'REILLY: True poverty is being driven by personal behavior, not an unfair economic system. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/9/14]
Charles Payne: There's Not Enough “Stigma” Directed At Food Stamp Recipients. On a March, 2013 episode on Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Charles Payne alleged that federal benefit programs trap people in poverty and complained that there wasn't enough “stigma” attached to poor Americans who use food assistance programs:
CHARLES PAYNE: I know there's a big thing trying to de-stigmatize food stamps, but the good part about the stigma is it actually does serve as an impetus to get people off of it. I'll be quite honest with you. When I was growing up there was a point when we had food stamps and people in our building did, but if I was in the store buying something and my friend who lived upstairs one flight from me came in, there's no way in the world I would let him see me using food stamps. They're trying to take that stigma away. They're telling more people they should use it. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/28/13]
Steve Doocy: Are Low-Income, Disabled People Just “Moochers?” In 2012, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy questioned why the number of low-income Americans receiving federal disability benefits had increased since 1960, asking, “Are more people getting sick and disabled, or are we just wasting more money?” Later, he asked, “Has the number of people on disability gone up because they are moochers, or because more people need help?” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/6/12]