Food Stamps Are An Antipoverty Program, But Fox Won't Tell You That

A Fox News segment highlighting the fact that more Americans are benefitting from food stamps advanced the misleading notion that the United States has become a “food stamp nation” thanks in large part to the Obama administration's supposed comfort with having more people in poverty.

But the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is an antipoverty program -- it's designed to keep people out of poverty. And it closely tracks with the economic situation: As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, enrollment in the program “expands when the economy weakens and contracts when the economy recovers.”

During a discussion about the increase in food stamp enrollment with Fox host Neil Cavuto, conservative pundit Michelle Fields said the increase “has a lot to do with eligibility. They've expanded who can get food stamps, so we're seeing so many more people on them.” She added: “That's really what this administration is all about, right, is making people feel more comfortable living in poverty because that's what food stamps are.”

Though Cavuto noted that the economic situation is the cause of much of the increase in SNAP enrollment, he nevertheless suggested that spending on the program would continue at current high levels.

In fact, SNAP is an antipoverty program, designed to keep people out of poverty and lessen the extent and severity of poverty and unemployment. In 2011, for example, the program kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty, more than 2 million of them children:

The program was just as beneficial in 2010, keeping 4 million people out of poverty, including about 2 million children. Indeed, if safety net programs such as SNAP did not exist, the poverty rate would likely be twice as high.

SNAP is also a temporary program for most families, especially those who experience unemployment, a family crisis, or whose wages are too low. Data show that "[m]ore than half of all new entrants to SNAP in the mid-2000s participated for less than one year and then left the program when their immediate need had passed," reported CBPP.

CBPP further noted that the increase in SNAP enrollment is closely correlated to changes in poverty, meaning that enrollment goes down as the economy strengthens:

Since December 2007, when the recession began, the number of people receiving SNAP has increased by 19 million (about 70 percent), though as of April 2012 SNAP enrollment growth appears to have ended. In some of the states hit hardest by the economic downturn, caseloads have more than doubled. For example, in Nevada, Florida, Utah, and Idaho, where the number of unemployed has increased by almost 200 percent or more, the number of SNAP participants has increased by 130 to 170 percent.

But these changes are temporary. Government spending on SNAP is expected to shrink to pre-recession levels as the economy recovers:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is expected to decline after 2014, “reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate.”

During the segment, Fields also suggested that SNAP recipients don't work. In fact, nearly half of all households receiving benefits report earned income:

Fox News has repeatedly misinformed about the food stamp program. Fox personalities have claimed that SNAP fosters a “culture of dependency” and have engaged in a campaign to demonize those who depend on the program to feed their families.