Fox News' Smear Campaign Against The Poor Is Reflected In The GOP's Latest Food Stamp Bills

foodstamps fraud

Fox News' campaign of misinformation surrounding food assistance programs may be continuing to influence GOP legislation, as lawmakers in both Missouri and Kansas consider measures addressing “fake problems” within their state's benefit programs.

Republican lawmakers in Kansas recently introduced legislation restricting where recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as “welfare”) can spend their money and what they can buy. The bill would limit the daily spending allowance to $25 and ban recipients from using benefits at psychics and tattoo parlors. Another measure, introduced by the House GOP in Missouri, will similarly limit how recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly knowns as “food stamps”) can use their benefits, prohibiting them from buying “steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks.”

As Dana Milbank explained in an April 8 op-ed for The Washington Post, legislation of this nature is “about demeaning public-benefit recipients” and has little to do with public policy. “Few can afford filet mignon on a less-than-$7/day food-stamp allotment” wrote Milbank, “they're more likely to be buying chuck steak or canned tuna.”

Fox News has spent years denigrating food assistance programs and recipients, with its campaign coming to a head in August 2013 when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on Jason Greenslate, “a blissfully jobless California surfer” who had allegedly taken advantage of food stamps to purchase lobster and other luxury foods while refusing to work for a living. Labeling Greenslate as “the new face of food stamps,” the network used the man as an example of fraud and waste within food assistance programs, despite the rate of trafficking in the program being just over 1 percent.

Fox's influence over Republican policymaking has previously been felt in legislation about food assistance programs. In the months after their special aired, the network distributed copies of it to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in anticipation of an upcoming vote to cut up to $40 billion of SNAP funding over ten years. The proposal would have threatened nearly 4 million Americans with greater food insecurity.

Now, Fox's misinformation is again threatening to create real hardships for those who depend on food assistance programs to make ends meet. In an April 7 article for the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift wrote that the only evidence to back up claims of fraud used to justify food stamp and welfare restrictions in Kansas and Missouri is the “widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance.”

The Washington Post's Roberto Ferdman also traced the Missouri bill back to its roots in Fox's campaign to demonize recipients of food assistance. In an April 3 post for Wonkblog, Ferdman wrote that the measures “fit a longtime conservative suspicion that poor people use food stamps to purchase luxury items” but that the myths perpetuated by Fox News “should be viewed as distortions of reality.”