Fox Misleadingly Hypes 1.3 Percent Fraud In Food Stamp Program

Fox News misleadingly hyped a minor rise in food stamp fraud in an attempt to demonize the program, failing to note it has one of the lowest fraud rates of all federal programs, fraud remains at historically low levels, and the slight increase in fraud reflects an increase in overall enrollment in food supplement initiatives. 

On August 15, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new report on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, which found that benefit trafficking -- “when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash to food retailers, often at a discount” -- had risen slightly from 1.0 percent of total SNAP benefits in 2006-2008 to just 1.3 percent in 2009-2011.

Co-host Brian Kilmeade hyped this minor difference on the August 19 edition of Fox & Friends, focusing on the change in fraud levels while failing to report how little fraud was found in the program:

KILMEADE: 30 percent. That's how many more Americans, according to a new study, are selling food stamps for cash illegally. No, Steve, that's not legal. Nearly 48 million people receive food stamps. The program costs $80 billion a year.

In fact, according to the USDA, SNAP benefit trafficking has “remained relatively steady at approximately one cent on the dollar,” and the program “continues to have one of the lowest fraud rates for Federal programs.” Furthermore, rates of trafficking have declined since the 90s and the current rate of trafficking remains near historic lows:

According to the USDA, a “substantial portion” of the minor rise in benefit trafficking “is due to the growth in the program,” as the total number of SNAP benefits jumped during the recent economic crisis from $36 billion in 2008 to $73 billion in 2011. The USDA also noted that the rise is partly due to the increased number of small and medium-sized businesses which are authorized to accept SNAP benefits, as small retailers accounted for 85 percent of the fraudulent redemptions identified.

The USDA has taken steps to decrease the small amount of SNAP benefit fraud, including permanently disqualifying over 1000 retailers that engaged in trafficking, suspending retailers suspected of serious fraud, more frequently reviewing high-risk retailers, and cracking down on fraud online.

Kilmeade's misleading report is just another example of how Fox News has shamelessly misrepresented the SNAP program and its beneficiaries in an effort to demonize food assistance and malign low-income Americans.