Fox Ramps Up Food Stamp Stigmatizing Ahead Of Special

Fox News promoted its upcoming food stamp special by stigmatizing participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by complaining that recipients don't feel sufficient shame and by hyping anecdotal evidence that the system is being manipulated.

In a preview for Fox News' upcoming special The Great Food Stamp BingeAmerica Live guest host Gregg Jarrett and Fox News editor-at-large Peter Boyer attacked SNAP recipients, complaining that while there “used to be a sense in this country that if you are on the government dole, there was a little bit of a stigma attached, a little bit of shame involved” but that the “government to some degree has helped to try to break down the resistance” to joining the program. The segment aired an interview with a man Jarrett referred to as “surfer dude” and “surfs by day, plays in his band at night, and eats wonderfully, lobster, generally speaking, on his food stamps, courtesy of you, the taxpayer”:

Jarrett and Boyer's attack on SNAP recipients is only the latest in Fox's campaign to stigmatize low-income Americans. Fox host Stuart Varney has long attacked SNAP recipients, and low-income individuals in general, claiming they are the victims of a government plot to increase dependency and buy votes, that they have appliances to make their lives comfortable, and that they lack “richness of spirit.” The campaign against SNAP and its beneficiaries has been driven by Fox News hosts across the network.

But contrary to Fox's characterization of SNAP recipients as lacking shame and their promotion of “surfer dude's” story, the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the “overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so” (emphasis original):

The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so.  Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP.  The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year. 

The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011.  The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off. 

A separate report pointed out that “Almost 70 percent of SNAP recipients are not expected to work, primarily because they are children, elderly, or disabled.”

Fox's attack on SNAP recipients comes as hunger and poverty have reached elevated levels following the economic downturn. A 2012 study by the Department of Agriculture found that nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were “food insecure at least some time during” 2011, “including 5.7 percent with very low food security - meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”