Fox Runs Defense For GOP's Attack On Food Stamp Funding

Fox News' Doug McKelway offered a series of misleading facts about the food stamp program in an effort to defend Republicans from criticisms that their attempt to cut funding for the program would take eligibility away from millions of people.

During a September 19 Happening Now segment on the House Republicans' plan to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), McKelway aired Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) criticizing the proposal by saying the cuts would save money “by snatching food out of the hands of millions of neediest children and their families.” McKelway asked, “But would it really?” before claiming the program “has expanded exponentially since President Obama took office” and that the “system is easily abused.” McKelway also responded to Reid's criticism by highlighting Fox's Great Food Stamp Binge -- an hour-long special Fox is reportedly distributing to members of Congress in advance of votes on SNAP -- that demonized SNAP recipients and attempted to make a California musician who openly takes advantage of the program “the new face of food stamps”:

But despite McKelway's deflection, Reid's criticism was accurate. A report by the Health Impact Project found that SNAP “reduces household food insecurity by 18 to 30 percent,” and found that the House Republicans' bill could cause “as many as 5.1 million people” to lose eligibility:

As many as 5.1 million people could lose SNAP eligibility under proposed legislative changes to how states determine eligibility; among these are 1.4 million children and nearly 900,000 older adults. Under other proposals, 500,000 people could receive lower benefits, two-thirds of whom are children, people with disabilities, or older adults. These proposed changes would be likely to increase health risks for low-income Americans.

McKelway's other defenses of the GOP's bill were equally misleading. While Fox has desperately tried to portray Jason Greenslate, the musician who abuses SNAP benefits, as the “new face of food stamps,” the reality is that most SNAP recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report found:

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. 

In addition, while pointing out the rise in SNAP eligibility “since President Obama took office,” McKelway failed to point out that the reason SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy institute noted that “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.” According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:

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.