Fox's Varney Attacks “Feel Good” Food Stamp Program As Hunger Reaches Elevated Levels

Fox's Stuart Varney dismissed the federal food stamp program as an “entitlement” that “make[s] you feel good” and attacked an outreach program intended to ensure that people know whether they are eligible for benefits, suggesting it was being used by the Obama administration to “buy votes.” But the food stamp program -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- is effective and necessary as the number of hungry Americans has reached elevated levels, and the SNAP outreach program goes back at least to President George W. Bush.

Varney Attacks SNAP As A “Feel Good” “Entitlement” That Dems Use To “Buy Votes”

Varney: Informing People Of SNAP Eligibility Creates “An Entitlement Nation” And “Make[s] You Feel Good.” On the March 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney attacked an outreach program for SNAP, asking “can we afford” to “reach out and give people food” and claiming that expanding SNAP coverage leads to “an entitlement nation” by making people “feel good.” From Fox & Friends:

VARNEY: [C]an we afford this? We've got a trillion dollar deficit every year as far as the eye can see. But we want to reach out and give people food.

ALISYN CAMEROTA (guest co-host): I wasn't actually going to challenge you about starving seniors.

VARNEY: You will now.

CAMEROTA: No, I was going to ask you about whether or not this is considered educational. Are they trying to tell people, “Look we don't give up just government blocks of cheese, we give out fruits and vegetables.” Is that what they're trying to do?

VARNEY: No, no, no, they are saying you are eligible --

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): For free asparagus.

VARNEY: -- therefore you are entitled. Now, do you want an entitlement nation? Newt Gingrich said" this is the food stamp president." Is this an entitlement nation? Where the government goes out and says “Hey, you're entitled to this. You should have it. It will make you feel good. And by the way, when we give you this, maybe you'll vote for us because we're giving you something.”


VARNEY: I don't wish to be harsh, but we do have 46 million Americans on food stamps right now. That was as of December of last year. Twenty-two million households. That's up by half since President Obama came to office in January of '09.

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Shows you how bad the economy is.

VARNEY: I mean, are you happy with this? I mean, do you want this vast expansion of another entitlement program? Do you want the government to outreach and say, “Come on in, we got the money. We got the food. You're entitled. Go get it.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/15/12, via Media Matters]

Varney Suggests Obama Is “Buying Votes” With SNAP Outreach Program. During the same segment, Varney suggested that the Obama administration was “buying votes” by using SNAP outreach programs, including radio advertisements. From Fox & Friends:

VARNEY: [Point] number one: Is this administration outreach on food stamps actually buying votes?

DOOCY: Sure.


VARNEY: [T]he government goes out and says, “Hey, you're entitled to this. You should have it. It will make you feel good. And by the way, when we give you this, maybe you'll vote for us because we're giving you something.”

DOOCY: So you see it as a re-election thing.

VARNEY: I do. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/15/12, via Media Matters]

In Fact, Hunger And Poverty Are At Elevated Levels ...

USDA: 14.5% Of American Households Do Not Have “Access At All Times To Enough Food For An Active, Healthy Life.” A September 2011 report by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that 17.2 million households were food insecure, while 6.4 million households had “very low food security.” From the USDA:

An estimated 85.5 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2010, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.5 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.4 percent with very low food security -- meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. [USDA, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2010,” September 2011]

USDA: In 2010, 16.2 Million Children Lived In Food-Insecure Households. The USDA further found:

In 2010, 48.8 million people lived in food-insecure households (see table 1A). They constituted 16.1 percent of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population and included 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children (see table 1B). About 8.5 million children (11.3 percent) lived in households in which one or more child was food insecure, 11.3 million adults (4.9 percent) lived in households with very low food security (see table 1A), and 976,000 children (1.3 percent) lived in households with very low food security among children (see table 1B). [USDA, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2010,” September 2011]

Food Research and Action Center: “18.6 Percent Of Respondents Reported Food Hardship” In 2011. A February 27 report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) analyzed Gallup polling data and found that “18.6 percent of respondents reported food hardship.” From the report:

FRAC's analysis for the nation as a whole in 2011 shows that 18.6 percent of respondents reported food hardship that year -- up modestly from the 2010 level (18 percent).


Food hardship rates are too high in every corner of the nation, and the national 2011 rate was higher than the 2010 rate, even though economic growth was picking up. It is crucial that the nation rebuild its economy, strengthen employment and wages, and develop public supports that will dramatically decrease these food hardship numbers and do so quickly. Essential steps include: a growing economy that provides full-time jobs at decent wages, shares prosperity and pulls households out of hunger and poverty; strengthened income supports (e.g., unemployment insurance, TANF, refundable tax credits) that help struggling workers and families; and strengthened -- not reduced, as some in Congress are proposing -- federal nutrition programs (SNAP/Food Stamps, school meals, WIC, summer, afterschool, and child care food) that reach more households -- seniors, children, and working-age adults alike -- in need and do so with more robust benefits. [FRAC, February 2012]

USA Today: “More Than 1.4 Million Families Live On $2 A Day Per Person.” From a February 24 USA Today article:

The number of families living on $2 or less per person per day for at least a month in the USA has more than doubled in 15 years to 1.46 million.

That's up from 636,000 households in 1996, says a new study released by researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University.

Government benefits blunt the impact of such extreme poverty, but not completely, says one of the researchers, Luke Shaefer, a professor of social work at Michigan.

When food stamps are included as income, the number of households in extreme poverty, defined as living on $2 a day, drops to 800,000, Shaefer says. That's up from 475,000 in 1996. [USA Today, 2/24/12]

... And SNAP Is Effective At Treating Hunger And Reducing Food Insecurity

Urban Institute: SNAP “Is Meeting Its Key Goal Of Reducing Food-Related Hardship.” According to a March 2010, report by the Urban Institute, SNAP “is meeting its key goal of reducing food-related hardship.” From the report:

In a country as wealthy and prosperous as the United States, one would think that having enough to eat is not an issue. However, nearly 15 percent of all households and 39 percent of near-poor households were food insecure in 2008. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called the Food Stamp Program) is the cornerstone of federal food assistance programs and serves as the first line of defense against food-related hardship, such as food insecurity. Using the 1996, 2001, and 2004 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) panels, this paper measures SNAP's effectiveness in reducing food insecurity using a dummy endogenous variable model with instrumental variables to control for selection bias. Recent changes in state SNAP policies and rules provide exogenous variation, which we use to control for selection into the program. Results from naïve models that do not control for the endogeneity of SNAP receipt show that SNAP receipt is associated with higher food insecurity. However, instrumental variable models that control for the endogeneity of SNAP receipt suggest that SNAP receipt reduces the likelihood of being food insecure by roughly 30 percent and reduces the likelihood of being very food insecure by 20 percent. These findings provide evidence that SNAP is meeting its key goal of reducing food-related hardship. [Urban Institute, March 2010]

CBPP: Snap Lifted 3.9 Million People Out Of Poverty In 2010. According to a September 13, 2011, report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), SNAP reduced poverty in 2010 by 3.9 million. From CBPP:

Unemployment insurance kept 3.2 million people above the poverty line in 2010. The official poverty measure doesn't count the EITC or SNAP (food stamp) benefits as income, but the Census Bureau reported that if they were counted, as many analysts favor, they would be shown to lift out of poverty 5.4 million and 3.9 million people, respectively. [CBPP, 9/13/11]

CBPP: SNAP Aids “Low-Income Families, The Elderly, And People With Disabilities.” From a February 2 CBPP brief on SNAP:

Nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; more than one-quarter of participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities.

After unemployment insurance, SNAP is the most responsive federal program providing additional assistance during economic downturns. It also is an important nutritional support for low-wage working families and low-income seniors and people with disabilities with fixed incomes. [CBPP, 2/2/12]

Children's Health Watch: SNAP “Significantly Decreases Families' And Children's Food Insecurity.” A February 12 report by Children's Health Watch showed that SNAP “significantly decreases families' and children's food insecurity.” From the report:

Children's HealthWatch demonstrated that SNAP, like an effective immunization, significantly decreases families' and children's food insecurity, which are established child health hazards. Children's HealthWatch also found that compared to young children in families that were likely eligible but not receiving SNAP, young children in families receiving SNAP were less likely to be underweight or at risk for developmental delays.

When we specifically examined the impact of SNAP among young citizen children from immigrant families, those whose families received SNAP were more likely to be food secure and in better health than similar children whose immigrant families did not receive SNAP.

The report further found that families receiving SNAP had a lower incidence of underweight children, developmental delays, and were “significantly less likely to have had to make trade-offs between paying for healthcare costs and paying for other basic needs, like food, housing, heating and electricity.” [Children's Health Watch, February 2012]

Contrary To Varney's Suggestion That Obama Is “Buying Votes” With SNAP Outreach, The Program Has Existed For Years

USDA: SNAP Outreach Page Has PSAs And Advertisements Listed From Bush Administration. The USDA page, which includes scripts and audio files for SNAP outreach public service announcements and advertisements, has examples listed from December 2008, including three English PSAs, two Spanish PSAs, and 10 “Radio Novelas.” [USDA, 2/16/12]

In 2006, USDA Led Outreach Program To “Reach Key Target Populations” Such As “Seniors” And “Working Poor.” A 2007 SNAP “Fact Sheet” from the USDA's Food Nutrition Services (FNS) outlined the efforts the agency was taking to “ensure that all eligible people, particularly seniors, legal immigrants and the working poor, are aware of and have access to the benefits they need and deserve.” From FNS:

There are many reasons that eligible people do not participate in the FSP, including lack of information, lack of accessibility, language barriers, and the stigma that some associate with food stamps. FNS is making great efforts to ensure that all eligible people, particularly seniors, legal immigrants and the working poor, are aware of and have access to the benefits they need and deserve.


FNS supports its partners and has developed many targeted resources to improve awareness of and access to critical nutrition benefits.

  • “Food Stamps Make America Stronger” is an FNS ongoing national educational campaign to reach key target populations - the working poor, seniors, and legal immigrants. The campaign includes radio advertising; National and State toll-free numbers; and posters, flyers, brochures and other materials. Resources are available in English and Spanish.
  • In FY 2006, FNS awarded more than $1 million to 15 faith- and community-based organizations to conduct food stamp outreach. In FY 2007, FNS awarded an additional $1 million to another 14 organizations.
  • In 2006, FNS awarded a total of $5 million to five States through the program to help increase access. The FSP also awarded $18 million to States for improving access and increasing program participation through performance bonuses. [FNS, 5/31/07]

From 2001-2002, The Bush Administration Spent $8.5 Million On Community-Level Food Stamp Outreach. According to the USDA, the Bush administration spent at least $8.5 million on grants to “community and faith-based organizations” to “reach underserved and hard-to-reach non-participating eligible populations.” From the USDA:

Public education increases awareness of the program and its benefits. Outreach efforts to educate the public occur in offices covering three-fourths of the national caseload. Smaller offices are somewhat more likely than larger ones to conduct outreach. In areas where a large number of outreach models are used, non-participants who are eligible for food stamps are more likely to perceive themselves as eligible.

FNS is committed to ensuring that all persons eligible for the FSP participate. FNS supports the efforts of State and community organizations to reach those eligible for the program and to educate the public about program benefits.

In fiscal years 2001 and 2002, FNS awarded $8.5 million in grants to 33 community and faith-based organizations to educate the public about the program, reach underserved and hard-to-reach non-participating eligible persons, and address barriers to participation. Grantees developed prescreening tools (such as paper forms, software, and Internet-based tools); disseminated information through various media and hotlines; and provided application assistance, transportation, and alternative eligibility process options. [USDA, Making America Stronger: A Profile Of The Food Stamp Program, September 2005, emphasis in original]

Varney Has Repeatedly Attacked Families In Need And Programs Intended To Alleviate Poverty

Varney Calls Tax Credit For Working Families A “Welfare Scheme.” On the June 15, 2011, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Varney described the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program designed to lift working families out of poverty, a “welfare scheme” and “the most corrupt government program.” From Fox & Friends:

VARNEY: Whenever you've got a cash welfare system you are going to have people gaming that system. What you have not got on the screen is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is by far the biggest cash -- I'm going to call it a welfare scheme. That is known as the most corrupt government program. Billions of your dollars going out there when they should not be going out there; same with the Supplemental Security Income program. It really is a scandal. At a point where we are running out of money, running a massive deficit, and Social Security itself is in trouble. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/15/11, via Media Matters]

Varney: Struggling Americans Receiving Support Are Part Of An “Entitlement Mentality.” On the May 19, 2011, edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Varney cited a lottery winner who was still on food stamps as evidence that “President Obama has led us towards an entitlement society.” Later in the segment, Varney cited statistics on the number of food stamp enrollees and claimed “we have become [a] food stamp nation, entitlement mentality nation.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 5/19/11, via Media Matters]

Varney: Minimum Wage Increases Are “Not A Reason To Stand Up And Cheer.” On the December 13, 2011, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Varney reacted to reports that San Francisco would be the first city in the nation to raise the minimum wage above $10/hour by claiming that “this is not a reason to stand up and cheer” and that it is “probably not” a “good deal” for workers. Varney also suggested that the “massive increase in labor costs” would not lead to “any more jobs” and concluded by complaining that the “state [is] dictating what [employers] are going to pay.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/13/11, via Media Matters]

Varney On The Poor: “Many Of Them Have Things -- What They Lack Is The Richness Of Spirit.” On the August 25, 2011, edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Varney claimed, “The image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor really is not accurate. Many of them have things, what they lack is the richness of spirit.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 8/25/12, via Media Matters]

Varney Hosts Author Of Poverty Report To Argue That Because The Poor Have “Modern Conveniences,” Official Poverty Figures Are Inaccurate. On the July 19, 2011, edition of Fox Business' Your World, guest host Varney hosted Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector to claim the “poverty report has not accurately reflected [the poor's] living conditions” because many of them “have all these modern conveniences.” From Your World:

VARNEY: A new report showing poor families in the United States are not what they used to be. Now, many poor families have homes with cable TV, cell phones, computers, you name it -- much, much, more. My next guest is digging up all of this stuff. Robert Rector is with the Heritage Foundation.

Robert, I'm just going to give our viewers a quick run-through of what items poor families in America have. Ninety-nine percent of them have a refrigerator. Eighty-one percent have a microwave. Seventy-eight percent have air conditioning. Sixty-three percent have cable TV. Fifty-four percent have cell phones. Forty-eight percent have a coffee maker -- I'm not surprised, they're only about 10 bucks. Thirty-eight percent have a computer. Thirty-two percent have more than two TVs. Twenty-five percent have a dishwasher.

This, Sir, Mr. Rector, is very different what it was just a few years ago, isn't it?


RECTOR: Yes, part of the reason that when you look at the actual living conditions of the 43 million people that the Census says are poor, you see that in fact, they have all these modern conveniences. If you ask them, did your family have enough food to eat at all times during the last year, the overwhelming majority will say yes. If you ask them were you able to meet any medical needs you may have had, they will say yes.

The typical poor family in the United States lives in a house or an apartment and actually has more living space than the average European. Not a poor European, but the average Frenchman or the average German.

So, in fact, there really isn't any connection between the government's identification of poor people and the actual living standards and the typical American -- when an American hears the word “poverty,” he's thinking about somebody that doesn't have enough food to eat, someone that's possibly homeless. It's not true. [Fox News, Your World, 7/19/11, via Media Matters]