Fox Ignores Food Stamp Facts To Push “Dependency” Myth

Fox News repeated the conservative myth that there is an emerging “culture of dependency” and a “culture of entitlement” because of the supposed notion that people would rather collect food stamp benefits than work. In fact, most beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are working-class Americans who already have jobs, and most leave the program after one year.

Fox Pushed Claim That People On Food Stamps “Are Not In A Hurry To Get Off”

John Stossel: “We Fund Dependency.” In a column in which he described an intern's search for help getting a job at a government jobs center, Fox Business host John Stossel concluded that the centers “help people get handouts” and that the “government helps you apply for handouts immediately, but forces you through a maze if you want to work.” He also claimed that “welfare creates dependency and hurts poor people.” [, 10/3/12]

Megyn Kelly: There Is Evidence Of An “Emerging Culture Of Dependency On Taxpayer-Funded Money.” Fox News host Megyn Kelly cited Stossel's column on her show as evidence of an “emerging culture of dependency on taxpayer-funded money.” [Fox News, America Live, 10/4/12]

Mike Gallagher: “Frankly The People I Know” On Food Stamps “Are Not In A Hurry To Get Off.” In a conversation about dependency on Fox New's America Live, Fox contributor Mike Gallagher said “frankly the people I know” on food stamps “are not in a hurry to get off” and “take the path of least resistance,” rejecting the data that shows most Americans remain on food stamps for only a short period of time:

GALLAGHER: Do you know anybody on food stamps or on government assistance, Alan?

ALAN COLMES (radio host): I do. Yeah.

GALLAGHER: Okay. And I do too. It would be kind of interesting anecdotally to compare notes, because frankly the people I know are not in a hurry to get off. They are not, I think that is flat wrong to assert that most people want to be on food stamps for a year-and-a-half and the data doesn't back that up.

COLMES: I didn't say want to be. Most people are in and out of the system in year-and-a-half. The data does backs that up.


COLMES: This notion that the right keeps promoting that people are lazy, they sit on their behinds, they sit on their keisters as Reagan would say. They don't want to work. They really want to take government money. You and I don't. Most people don't--

KELLY: Well there are some people like that.

COLMES: But that's not -- you're painting a picture of people that is really derogatory and insulting to those that need government assistance.

GALLAGHER: That is not fair. I'm not using the word lazy. But what I'm saying is people do take the path of least resistance. [Fox News, America Live, 10/4/12]

Gallagher: “President Obama Believes In More Government, More Entitlements.” During the segment, Gallagher also claimed that “there's factual basis” in the claim that Obama is “the food stamp president.” Gallagher stated: “President Obama believes in more government, more entitlements. When Newt called him the food stamp president, I mean, you know, there's factual basis for that.” [Fox News, America Live, 10/4/12]

In Reality, Most Food Stamp Recipients Stay In The Program For A Short Time

U.S. Department Of Agriculture: “Half Of All New Participants Will Leave The Program Within Nine Months.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “SNAP helps families become financially stable and make the transition to self-sufficiency, getting them through the tough times. Half of all new participants will leave the program within nine months.” [Department Of Agriculture, May 2011]

Center On Budget And Policy Priorities: “More Than Half Of All New Entrants To SNAP ... Participated For Less Than One Year.” According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) on SNAP benefits, “More 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.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/9/12]

Many Food Stamp Recipients Work

USDA: In 2010, 41 Percent Of SNAP Participants Lived “In A Household With Earnings.” According to a USDA report on SNAP recipients for fiscal year 2010, “many SNAP participants had jobs.” The report stated that "[n]early 30 percent of SNAP households had earnings in 2010" and “41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings.” The report added, “For most of these households, earnings were the primary source of income.” [Department Of Agriculture, September 2011]

CBPP: “In 2010 More Than Three Times As Many SNAP Households Worked As Relied Solely On Welfare Benefits For Their Income.” A July report from the (CBPP) noted that "[n]early half of all SNAP households with children have earned income":

Over the last two decades, large shares of SNAP households have become working households. In 2010 more than three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on welfare benefits for their income. (See chart: “Working Households Have Risen.”) Nearly half of all SNAP households with children have earned income.

Despite sharply higher unemployment, the share of SNAP families with children that have earnings has remained stable during the recession. SNAP benefits help these low-wage working families make ends meet. For a family of three with one wage-earner who works at $10 an hour, SNAP increases the family's take-home income by roughly 20 to 50 percent, depending on the number of hours worked. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/9/12]

Congressional Research Service Report: “There Is A Special Work Requirement For Able-Bodied Adults” Which Limits Benefits “Unless The Participant Works At Least 20 Hours Per Week.” A Congressional Research Service Report examined the work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) on food stamps:

In addition to SNAP's work registration and Employment and Training program requirements, there is a special work requirement for able-bodied adults, ages 18 to 49 who are without dependents (ABAWDs). This requirement for ABAWDs - often referred to as the “ABAWD Rule” - was added by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ... SNAP law limits ABAWDs to benefits for 3 months out of a 36-month period, unless the participant:

  • Works at least 20 hours per week;
  • Participates in an employment and training program for at least 20 hours per week; or
  • Participates in a SNAP “workfare” program for at least 20 hours per week. 

... benefits can be terminated for those without at least a half time job once the 3-month limit is reached, unless the individual is covered by an exemption of a “waiver” of the ABAWD requirement. [Congressional Research Service, 9/14/12]

Food Stamp Usage Is Predicted To Decline Over The Next Decade

CBO: SNAP Enrollment Will Decline Over The 2012-2022 Period, “Reflecting An Improved Economic Situation.” From CBO's April 2012 report:

The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants. [Congressional Budget Office, April 2012]

In the overview of its report, CBO included the following graph showing a decline in SNAP enrollment after 2014: 

[Congressional Budget Office, 4/19/12]

Obama Is Not The “Food Stamp President”

FactCheck.Org: Food Stamp Program “Has So Far Grown By 444,574 Fewer Recipients During Obama's Time In Office Than During Bush's.” In a “fact check” of what it called “Newt's Faulty Food-Stamp Claim,” stated that “Gingrich strains the facts when he accuses Obama of being responsible,” writing: “Newt Gingrich claims that 'more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.' He's wrong. More were added under Bush than under Obama, according to the most recent figures.” The article continued:

Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it's also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office.

But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents. We asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition service for month-by-month figures going back to January 2001. And they show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.

And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama's time in office than during Bush's.

It's possible that when the figures for January 2012 are available they will show that the gain under Obama has matched or exceeded the gain under Bush. But not if the short-term trend continues. The number getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October. And the economy has improved since then. [, 1/18/12]

CBS News: “Percent Increase In Beneficiaries During Mr. Bush's Presidency Was Higher Than It Has Been Under Mr. Obama.” CBS News noted that the increase in food stamps enrollment “hardly makes Obama the 'best food stamp president in American history,' ” adding that the “percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush's presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama.” From CBS News:

While the number of people on food stamps is indeed at a record level, that's in part because of eligibility rules being relaxed under the administration of George W. Bush. It's also due in part to the economic downturn that began under Mr. Bush.


For the most recent month with available data, October 2011, 46.2 million people were enrolled in the food stamp program, which is formally known the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Since Mr. Obama took office, the percent increase in enrollment has been 44.5 percent.

However, that percentage increase hardly makes Obama the “best food stamp president in American history,” at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush's presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008 -- an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary. [CBS News,1/17/12]

For more on Fox labeling Obama the “Food Stamp President,” click here

Media Matters intern Alessandra DiMonda contributed research for this post.