Fox Helps GOP Gut Vital Antipoverty Programs By Dismissing The Poor

Fox is helping the GOP eviscerate vital antipoverty programs by characterizing the poor “as actually living the good life.” In fact, as incomes have stagnated and income disparity between the rich and working class have grown, such drastic cuts would mean “ending assistance for millions of low-income families.”

Antipoverty Programs Keep Millions Out Of Poverty

USDA: Food Stamp Benefits Led To “Average Decline Of 4.4 Percent In The Prevalence Of Poverty” Between 2000 and 2009. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study, “Alleviating Poverty in the United States: The Critical Role of SNAP Benefits,” explored how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) affected “poverty from 2000 to 2009.” The study found “an average decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty due to SNAP benefits, while the average decline in the depth and severity of poverty was 10.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively.” [U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed 4/17/12]

Study: Food Stamps' “Antipoverty Effect Was Strongest In 2009, When Benefit Increases Were Authorized By ... The Stimulus Package.” A summary of the study also stated:

SNAP's antipoverty effect was strongest in 2009, when benefit increases were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus package. In 2009, SNAP benefits:

  • Reduced the depth of child poverty by 20.9 percent and the severity of child poverty by 27.5 percent.
  • Ensured that the depth and severity of poverty in the overall population increased only slightly from their 2008 levels despite worsening economic conditions. [U.S. Department of Agriculture, April 2012]

Economist Len Burman: “Anti-Poverty Programs Actually Reduce Poverty.” In his Forbes column, economist Len Burman wrote:

[A]nti-poverty programs actually reduce poverty. The EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] does more to reduce poverty than any other cash assistance program, reducing the number of people in poverty by over 6 million (and 3 million kids). Food stamps come in a close second, at 5 million. The other subsidies are all under 3 million. Payroll taxes (FICA) and work expenses (primarily childcare) both add to the economic hardship of low-income people, each adding 4-5 million people to the poverty rolls.

But the biggest hit to the economic well-being of the poor comes from unreimbursed medical expenses, which add a whopping 10 million people to the total. This suggests that health reform could have a very significant effect on the poverty rate -- by expanding access to Medicaid and private health insurance for the poor and near poor and by closing the “donut hole” in Medicare's prescription drug coverage. [Forbes, 11/7/11]

CBPP: “Government Programs Kept Millions Out Of Poverty In 2010.” From Robert Greenstein, founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Though grim in many respects, the Census data released this morning show that poverty and hardship would have been far worse in 2010 if not for key programs such as unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), food stamps, and Medicaid. The new figures send a powerful message to policymakers as they consider major changes in these programs this fall.

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 (see graph).


History shows that deficit reduction can go hand-in-hand with protecting those on the lower rungs of the income scale and even with stronger policies for low-income families. The three major federal deficit-reduction packages of the last two decades -- those in 1990, 1993, and 1997 -- actually reduced poverty and inequality, even as they shrank deficits substantially, by shielding core low-income assistance programs as well as through such measures as expanding the EITC.

If policymakers instead impose significant cuts in programs for those at the bottom of the income ladder, it will have a strong and negative effect on the extent and depth of poverty in coming years and decades.

CBPP included this graph to illustrate its findings:

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 9/13/11]

Incomes At The Bottom Have Shown Almost No Growth In Decades

CBPP: “The Era Of Shared Prosperity Ended In The 1970s.” From a CBPP report:

Census family income data show that the era of shared prosperity ended in the 1970s and illustrate the divergence in income that has emerged since that time. CBO data allow us to look at what has happened to comprehensive income since 1979 -- both before and after taxes -- and offer a better view of what has happened at the top of the distribution.

As Figure 2 shows, between 1979 and 2007, average income after taxes in the top 1 percent of the distribution rose 277 percent, meaning that it nearly quadrupled. That compares with increases of about 40 percent in the middle 60 percent of the distribution and 18 percent in the bottom fifth.

The report included this graph:

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/5/12]

CBPP: In The 1970s, “Income Disparities Began To Widen, With Income Growing Much Faster At The Top Of The Ladder Than In The Middle Or Bottom.” From the CBPP:

Census family income data show that from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, incomes across the income distribution grew at nearly the same pace. Figure 1 indexes the level of income at several points on the distribution to its 1973 level. It shows that real (inflation-adjusted) family income roughly doubled over that period at the 95th percentile (the level of income separating the 5 percent of families with the highest income from the remaining 95 percent), the median (the level of income separating the richer half of families from the poorer half), and the 20th percentile (the level of income separating the poorest fifth of families from the remaining 80 percent). Beginning in the 1970s, income disparities began to widen, with income growing much faster at the top of the ladder than in the middle or bottom.

The report included this graph:

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/5/12]

For more on incomes and income disparity, click here

Yet Fox Insists On Dismissing The Hardship Of Living In Poverty

The O'Reilly Factor Promo: “John Stossel Says America's Poor Are Actually Living The Good Life.” A Fox News promotional spot for an episode of The O'Reilly Factor teased an appearance by John Stossel to claim that “America's poor are actually living the good life.” [Fox News, 5/30/12]

Fox's Stossel: “This Idea” That Poverty Is “A Horrible, Growing Crisis Is Just A Lie.” On Fox & Friends, Fox Business host John Stossel claimed that “the poor are not the same people” they were in previous decades and that the “idea” that poverty is “a horrible, growing crisis is just a lie”:

STOSSEL: There's this myth that the poor have gotten poorer; it's not true. Also, the poor are not the same people. Oprah Winfrey was once on welfare, and now she's one of the richest people in the world. There still is income mobility in America. I'm not -- if you are mentally ill, if you're in a shelter, you can have a really tough life. I don't mean to make light of that. But this idea that government can fix it, and it's a horrible growing crisis, is just a lie. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/24/12 via Media Matters]

Fox's Michael Goodwin: The “Sense Of Shame Is Gone” In Receiving Government Assistance. Discussing his column about fingerprinting food stamp applicants, Fox contributor Michael Goodwin lamented that “the sense of shame is gone” from people who depend on “entitlements” like “food stamps”:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Are too many Americans avoiding work to collect welfare? Well, check this out. Just last year, 45 million Americans received food stamps. That's a 70 percent increase since President Obama took office. So you have to wonder: Are entitlements the new American dream. Joining me now, Michael Goodwin, Fox News contributor and columnist for the New York Post. You know, I almost get a stomach ache saying that becausee when you think of the American dream, you certainly don't think about handouts, but is that what we're becoming?

GOODWIN: Well, it's interesting. The thing I write about in here is the idea that shame used to be part of this. In other words, people didn't want to accept a handout because they were ashamed to do it. There was a kind of social contract that said you don't do it. You're independent, you're reliant. That was part of the American founding virtue, as Charles Murray calls them.

And yet now we look at them, we see this explosion of entitlements. The sense of shame is gone. So I focus this week on food stamps, which I think is a real cultural issue, because it's now 47 million people in the country are on food stamps. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/21/12 via Media Matters]

Fox's Greg Gutfeld On Chef Mario Batali Attempting To Feed His Family On SNAP Budget: “Does This Make You Want To Slap Him Around?” When Chef Mario Batali chose to highlight the problem of food insecurity by feeding his family for a week on the monetary equivalent of what a family of four would receive on SNAP assistance, Fox co-host Greg Gutfeld mocked him and asked his guest, “Does this make you want to slap him around?” [Fox News, Red Eye, 5/16/12 via Media Matters]

Fox's Stuart Varney Attacks Earned Income Tax Credit: “It's Free Money. Literally Pennies From Heaven.” During a segment on Fox & Friends called “Who's ruining the economy,” Fox Business host Stuart Varney attacked the Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits working class Americans as “free money”:

VARNEY: OK. You work, you don't pay much in tax, if anything. You don't earn much money. But bingo, you get into this program, and you will get a check from the government early in the year. It's a refund of the tax that you didn't pay in the first place -- 26,800,000 people got those checks last year, averaging $2,240 each. The government shelled out a total of $59-and-a-half-billion to those 26 million people last year. It's free money. Literally pennies from heaven. And now you have the government saying, hey, you may qualify. Come on in. We got a check for you. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/11/12 via Media Matters]

Fox's Varney Claimed Food Stamp Assistance Creates “An Entitlement Nation.” On Fox & Friends, Varney asked if we can afford to “reach out and give people food” and claimed that food stamp coverage leads to “an entitlement nation”:

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.


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]

Fox's Hannity: Appliance Ownership Shows That “Poor In America Is Not Poor Like Around The Rest Of The World.” Discussing poverty with Donald Trump, Fox News host Sean Hannity downplayed the hardship of poverty by pointing to appliance ownership and access to basic facilitites:

HANNITY: As bad as a neighborhood as some of these neighborhoods are, people have running water and plumbing, and they have kitchens, and they have microwaves and big screen TVs, and stereos, and most people have cars. They may not be brand new cars, but they're cars.


HANNITY: So, poor in America is not poor like around the rest of the world. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 12/5/11 via Media Matters]

Click here to see more examples of Fox downplaying poverty in America

GOP Budget Would Reduce Funding To Programs That Assist Millions Of Working Class Americans, Children, Elderly

CBPP: Ryan Gets 62 Percent Of His Budget Cuts From Programs For Lower-Income Americans. In a March 23 report, CBPP found that the GOP budget “would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts over ten years (relative to a continuation of current policies) from programs that serve people of limited means”:

Total cuts in low-income programs (including cuts in both discretionary and entitlement programs) appear likely to account for at least $3.3 trillion -- or 62 percent -- of Chairman Ryan's total budget cuts, and probably significantly more than that; as explained below, our assumptions regarding the size of the low-income cuts are conservative.

CBPP illustrated its findings with this graph:

[CBPP, 3/23/12]

CBPP: Under GOP Budget, 46 Million Americans Would Either Lose SNAP Benefits Or See Benefits Cut. In a report detailing how the House budget would affect low- and moderate-income American households, the CBPP stated:

The House legislation contains an array of cuts covering a swath of basic assistance programs. Several of these cuts stand out.

  • SNAP. Charged with finding $33 billion in savings, the House Agriculture Committee elected to exceed its target and to cut SNAP by $36 billion while shielding all other programs in its jurisdiction. Despite calls from across the political spectrum for reforming farm subsidies -- three-quarters of which go to the largest, most profitable farms, according to Agriculture Department data -- the committee declined to take a single dollar from farm subsidies.


The SNAP cuts would reduce or eliminate benefits for all SNAP households, including the poorest, the very old, and the disabled. Two million people, disproportionately people in low-income working families and the elderly, would lose SNAP benefits entirely. The other 44 million individuals receiving SNAP assistance would see their benefits cut. Every family of four receiving SNAP assistance would face a benefit cut of $57 a month this September.

The legislation also would cut federal funding by 72 percent for the SNAP employment and training program -- which helps jobless SNAP recipients find work -- thereby making it harder for these people to obtain jobs. In addition, the SNAP cuts in the House package would cause 200,000 low-income children to lose free school meals, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, because of interactions between SNAP and the school lunch program. [CBPP, 5/10/12]

CBPP: GOP Budget Would Eliminate Social Programs That Help Working Mothers, Address Child Abuse, And Provide Health Care For Elderly And Disabled. From the CBPP:

  • Social Services. The bill would terminate the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), producing $17 billion in savings over ten years. The current block grant, established under President Reagan, provides $1.7 billion a year to states primarily to: 1) help people become more self-sufficient, especially by providing child care assistance to low-income working mothers; 2) prevent and address child abuse and provide adoption services; and 3) provide community-based care for frail elderly and disabled people so they can remain in their homes rather than being placed in institutions. About 23 million people, half of them children, receive services that SSBG supports. The services that SSBG funds are focused heavily on low- and moderate-income families and communities.

House leaders' claim that SSBG duplicates other programs does not withstand scrutiny. The Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) recent comprehensive survey of duplication and overlap in the federal government makes no mention of any duplication related to SSBG. In fact, the GAO report's sole mention of SSBG comes when the GAO points out that there is insufficient funding to provide child care assistance to all low-income working families that qualify for it, even with several federal funding streams supporting child care. Only one in six eligible low-income working families receives any federally supported child care assistance, according to Department of Health and Human Services data. Eliminating SSBG would worsen that shortage. It also would make it more difficult for many vulnerable elderly and disabled people to remain in their homes.

CBPP included this graph to illustrate its findings:

[CBPP, 5/10/12; 5/3/12]

CBPP: Under GOP Budget, About 350,000 Working Class Households Would Be Unable To Afford Health Insurance. From the CBPP:

  • Health Insurance. The legislation would scale back the support that many near-poor and modest-income families and individuals would receive under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help them purchase insurance in the new health insurance exchanges. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates these changes would cause 350,000 people to forgo coverage. The changes would also make it more difficult for the insurance exchanges to function effectively.

Specifically, the legislation would substantially increase the repayment charges imposed at tax time on many people who have received subsidies to help them afford coverage during months of the year when their incomes are low but whose incomes increase later in the year because they have obtained a job, gotten a promotion, gotten married, or for other reasons. As a result, many people who are unemployed and receive subsidies for part of the year, but then find a job with employer coverage and cease receiving subsidies -- as well as many people who get subsidies but then get married and join their spouse's plan -- would owe the IRS thousands of dollars at the end of the year.

For example, consider a low-wage mother with two children whose earnings equal 150 percent of the poverty line (a little over $28,500 in today's dollars and using today's poverty line) who receives subsidies to buy insurance for the first nine months of the year but gets married at the end of September, enrolls in coverage through her husband's plan, and stops receiving subsidies. Under the House bill, if the married couple's combined income for the year equaled a little over 350 percent of the poverty line, the couple would be required to pay the IRS almost $5,000 when it filed its tax return. [CBPP, 5/10/12]

Krugman: GOP Budget “Slashes Taxes For Corporations And The Rich While Drastically Cutting Food And Medical Aid To The Needy.” In his April 1 New York Times column, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote:

[O]n Thursday Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in American history.

When I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn't just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit -- but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.[The New York Times, 4/1/12]

NEA: Ryan Budget Would Force About 200,000 Children Out Of Head Start Program In 2014. As the Huffington Post reported, the National Education Association found that the projected cuts in the Ryan budget would force about 200,000 children out of Head Start in 2014, and affect more than 2 million children over the next decade:

The plan, proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Budget Committee, would eliminate slots for about 200,000 children in 2014, according to an analysis by the National Education Association. Over the next decade, the NEA estimates, more than two million children would lose opportunities to attend Head Start centers as a result of the cuts.

As it stands, only 30 percent of eligible children participate in the program, but children's advocates tend to argue that the program should be expanded, not diminished. [The Huffington Post, 3/29/12; National Education Association, 3/26/12]

To find out more about how the GOP budget would adversely affect working class Americans, click here