Fox News Botches Basic Facts About Food Stamp Program

Fox News attacked the food stamp program for its increasing enrollment and costs, accused the program of facilitating fraud, and expressed astonishment that states are rewarded for increasing enrollment. However, enrollment in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased due to the recession; there are only about 1 percent of cases that are found to be fraudulent, and the state awards for enrollment date back to the Bush administration.

Fox Highlighted The Rising Enrollment And Cost Of SNAP Program Over Past Decade

Fox Highlighted Increased Enrollment And Cost Of SNAP In Recent Years. During the June 22 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, guest co-anchor Jamie Colby highlighted statistics showing the increase in SNAP cost in recent years:

COLBY: The program has ballooned in the last couple of years and it may be going to the wrong people. Check this out: a reported 46 million people get food stamps right now. That turns out to be 1 in 7 Americans. 27 million more than got them just a decade ago. And the overall cost is skyrocketing too. It's doubled since 2008, quadrupled over the past decade. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/22/12]

However, Food Stamp Enrollment Increase Is Due To Economic Downturn

CBPP: “The Record-Setting SNAP Participation Levels Are Consistent With The Extraordinarily Deep And Prolonged Nature Of The Recession And The Weak, Lagging Recovery.” In an April 18, 2012 report, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) stated:

After unemployment insurance, SNAP historically has been the most responsive federal program in assisting families and communities during economic downturns. This downturn has been no exception: national SNAP enrollment is at an all-time high.


The record-setting SNAP participation levels are consistent with the extraordinarily deep and prolonged nature of the recession and the weak, lagging recovery. Long-term unemployment reached its highest levels on record in 2010 and has remained at these unprecedented levels ever since.

CBPP's report included the following graph:

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/18/12]

EPI: “SNAP Swelled Because The Economy Entered The Worst Recession Since The Great Depression.” A February 2 Economic Policy Institute post stated:

SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began. [Economic Policy Institute, 2/2/12]

CBPP: Growth “Reflects The Fact That More Households Are Becoming Eligible Because Of The Recession.” According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the “rapid caseload growth primarily reflects the fact that more households are becoming eligible because of the recession.” CBPP added: “SNAP caseloads can grow for two reasons: because more households are qualifying for the program and enrolling or because a larger share of eligible households are signing up. Both of these occurred in recent years.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/18/12]

CBO Projects Food Stamp Costs And Enrollment To Decline Over Next Decade

CBO: “Spending [On SNAP] In 2022 Is Projected To Be About 23 Percent Less Than It Was In 2011.” In an April 2012 report, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that:

Spending (mostly for benefits and administrative costs) on SNAP in 2022 will be about $73 billion, CBO projects. In inflation-adjusted dollars, spending in 2022 is projected to be about 23 percent less than it was in 2011 but still about 60 percent higher than it was in 2007. [Congressional Budget Office, April 2012]

In the overview of its report, CBO included the following graph showing a projected decline in SNAP spending:

[Congressional Budget Office, 4/19/12]

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]

Fox Magnified Food Stamp Fraud

“Fox Fact” : “More Than $750 Million In Federal Food Aid Is Spent Fraudulently Each Year.” The following “Fox Fact” was displayed during the segment:

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/22/12]

“Fox Fact” Highlighted Food Stamp Fraud Among Retailers. The following “Fox Fact” was also displayed during the segment:

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/22/12]

But Fraud, Which Is Declining, Accounts For 1 Percent Of All Benefits

Reuters: Fraud “Accounts For Just 1 Percent Of Food Stamp Benefits.” From a February 6 Reuters article titled “U.S. targets food stamp fraud as election looms” :

Kevin Concannon, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said his agency was doubling efforts to prevent fraud, which accounts for just 1 percent of food stamp benefits, but equals about $750 million each year.

“This is $750 million that isn't being used to provide food to individuals and families and that issue isn't lost on us,” Concannon said in a recent phone interview.

“We want to maintain the confidence of American taxpayers because everyone is challenged in this economy - the payers as well as the folks who are benefiting from the program,” he said. [Reuters, 2/6/12]

CBPP: “SNAP Payment Error Rates At All-Time Lows.” The Center on Budget and Policy Report stated:

Despite the recent rapid caseload growth, USDA reports that states achieved a record-low SNAP error rate in fiscal year 2010 (see Figure 4.) Only 3 percent of all SNAP benefits represented overpayments, meaning they either went to ineligible households or went to eligible households but in excessive amounts, and more than 98 percent of SNAP benefits were issued to eligible households.

CBPP's report included the following graph:

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/18/12]

Fiscal Times: The USDA Has “Has Aggressively Implemented A Number Of Measures To Reduce The Prevalence Of Trafficking ... From 4 Percent Down To 1 Percent.” A May 24 article from The Fiscal Times reported that the Obama administration “took steps to go after merchants and beneficiaries” who illegally “traffic in food stamp debit cards.” The article continued:

Trafficking is an illegal activity punishable by disqualification from the program, fines, and even criminal prosecution. Over the last 15 years, the department has aggressively implemented a number of measures to reduce the prevalence of trafficking in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as it is now called, from 4 percent down to 1 percent. [The Fiscal Times, 5/24/12]

Fox Anchor Expressed Surprise That States Receive Awards For Boosting SNAP Enrollment

Fox's Colby Surprised That States “Get A Bonus” For Encouraging People To Sign Up For Aid. From the June 22 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): One of the amendments I offered was to quit giving states incentives for how many people they sign up because that encourages them to sign up anybody regardless of their wealth. So they've eliminated, in effect -- in most of the states now, have eliminated the requirement -- assets, that you can't get free food if you have substantial assets.

COLBY: But, Senator Sessions, before we go, you're telling us that states actually get a bonus for signing people up for aid?

SESSIONS (R-AL): Absolutely they are. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/22/12]

But The Awards Date Back To The Bush Administration

Food Stamp Awards Won By States Have Been Given At Least As Early As 2003. The Department of Agriculture's program improvement page for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the official, current term for the food stamp program) shows that payment accuracy bonuses to states started in fiscal year 2003, and application processing timeliness and program access index bonuses started in fiscal year 2006. [U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed 10/2/11]

USDA: State Food Stamp Awards Authorized By 2002 Farm Bill. From the Department of Agriculture's press release announcing the states receiving an award for their food stamp programs during fiscal year 2006:

Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner today announced that a total of $18 million will be awarded to States that provided exceptional administration of the Food Stamp Program in FY 2006.

“As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Food Stamp Act, we recognize the meaningful work and significant efforts of our state and community partners to improve the nutritional health and wellbeing of children, the elderly and their families,” said Conner. “I commend these States for their outstanding efforts to alleviate hunger for our most vulnerable citizens.”

As authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill, USDA awards $12 million in high performance bonuses among the eight States that have excelled in the area of program access. These States have the best, or most improved, program access index. The index is the percentage of households below 125 percent of poverty that are participating in the program. The following States will receive awards for best program access index: Maine, Missouri, Tennessee, and Oregon. The following States will receive awards for most improved program access index: Massachusetts, Mississippi, Vermont, and Maryland. [U.S. Department of Agriculture, 9/20/07]

2002 Farm Bill Required USDA To Give Bonuses To States With High Levels Of Food Stamp Program Performance. From USDA's explanation of Section 4120 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002:

For FY 2003, the current enhanced funding system that is based on error rates is replaced with a performance system that will award $48 million in bonuses each year to States with high or improved performance for actions taken to correct errors, reduce the rates of error, improve eligibility determinations, or other activities that demonstrate effective administration as determined by USDA. USDA will establish guidance for awarding FY 2003 and FY 2004 bonuses by October 1, 2002 and issue regulations regarding the criteria for bonus awards for FY 2005 and succeeding years. The Secretary will solicit ideas from State agencies and organizations that represent State interests prior to issuing proposed regulations. [U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2/16/12]

Bush-Era Department Of Agriculture Set Out Regulations Stating That Bonuses Would Be Based In Part On “The Highest ... Participant Access Rates.” From the Department of Agriculture's final rule on “Food Stamp Program: High Performance Bonuses” :

In the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rule Making], section 275.24(a)(1) proposed that FNS [Food and Nutrition Services] would award bonuses totaling $48 million for each fiscal year to State agencies that show high or most improved performance. Section 275.24(b) proposed to make awards to 30 States in 7 categories: the lowest and most improved combined payment error rates ($24 million); the lowest and most improved negative error rates ($6 million); the highest and most improved participant access rates (PAR) ($12 million)


[Final Rule]

(3) Program access index (PAI). FNS will divide $12 million among the 8 States with the highest and the most improved level of participation as specified in paragraphs (b)(3)(i) through (b)(3)(iii) of this section. The PAI is the ratio of participants to persons with incomes below 125 percent of poverty, as calculated in accordance with paragraph (b)(3)(iii) of this section (the PAI was formerly known as the participant access rate (PAR)).

(i) High program access index. FNS will provide bonuses to the 4 States with the highest PAI as determined in accordance with paragraph (b)(3)(iii) of this section. [Federal Register, 2/7/05]

To see Fox previously attacking President Obama for food stamp awards, click here