Fox News' misleading smear of food stamp recipients as surfing freeloaders found its way into a congressional hearing aimed at examining the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
On May 20, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing addressing the “Past, Present, and Future of SNAP.” Throughout the hearing, Fox News' misleading 2013 special, "The Great Food Stamp Binge" that attempted to make a surfing freeloader “the new face of food stamps” was referenced several times as evidence of abuse within the program.
Fox's misrepresentation of food stamp recipients found its way into the hearing when two members on the committee used the special as anecdotal evidence of abuse within SNAP. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) used Fox's example of a “surfer out in California living on food stamps and eating lobster” as evidence of abuse within the program, though he “forg[o]t which network” aired the special.
Later, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) also referenced “the surfer that was on one of the news channels,” claiming, “unfortunately, we see that in our districts, and I hear stories about that every day.”
The surfer mentioned by Reps. Gibbs and Yoho was Jason Greenslate who featured in Fox's special as part of Fox News' longstanding history of maligning the poor and misrepresenting food stamp recipients. After it aired, the network delivered physical copies of the special to members of Congress in an attempt to influence a vote to cut SNAP benefits by billions of dollars.
What the special failed to note was the fact that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, the fraud and waste rate in SNAP is roughly only 1 percent. The special also ignored the fact that SNAP kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, many of whom are children, and that 82 percent of SNAP households include a child, elderly person, or disabled American.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), fought to correct the record by pointing out the “surfer on food stamps” is “not the reality of the program, and it's our job to tell anybody who says it is, that it isn't” (emphasis added):
REP. MCGOVERN: I want to make sure the record is corrected on this, we heard a couple of times mention the guy who is a surfer on food stamps. That is not the reality of the program, and it's our job to tell anybody who says it is, that it isn't. The majority of people on this program are kids, are senior citizens, are those who are disabled. And of those who are able-bodied, the majority of them work. Given the opportunity between working at a job that pays a wage where I wouldn't have to rely on this benefit, or a job that I have to work full-time and I still need to rely on SNAP, I mean, we know what people would decide. So let's not demonize this program by taking some examples that may have appeared on some news show that I won't mention the name of the news show, but anyway. But the point of the matter is we ought to be talking, we ought to make sure that the narrative we are echoing here reflects the reality.