Food Insecurity | Media Matters for America

Food Insecurity

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  • Network news ignores report that Trump wants reduced aid to Puerto Rico amid food-stamp crisis

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On March 25, The Washington Post reported that almost 1.3 million people in Puerto Rico are facing a new crisis after Congress failed to reauthorize additional food stamps that they had been receiving since the devastating Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September 2017. The Post also reported that President Donald Trump has privately complained about continuing government aid to Puerto Rico, asking top advisers how he can limit federal support. After the Post's report, CBS, ABC, and NBC nightly and morning news programs failed to report on Puerto Rico’s continued struggles -- as well as Trump’s callous disregard for the plight of struggling Puerto Ricans.

    According to the Post, “Congress missed the deadline for reauthorization” of additional food-stamp aid to Puerto Rico in March, meaning “about 43 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents are grappling with a sudden cut to a benefit they rely on for groceries and other essentials.” The island will again need the federal government’s help to “stave off drastic cuts to Medicaid … as well as for the disbursement of billions in hurricane relief aid that has not yet been turned over to the island.” The problems in Puerto Rico are compounded by its lack of statehood; as the article notes, “The island would not need Congress to step in to fund its food-stamp and Medicaid programs if it were a state. For states, the federal government has committed to funding those programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote.”

    Despite Puerto Rico’s struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria, Trump last month “asked top advisers for ways to limit federal support from going to Puerto Rico, believing it is taking money that should be going to the mainland.” According to the article, “Trump sees the island as fundamentally broken and has told advisers that no amount of money will ever fix its systemic problems.” He has complained that “large swaths of the island never had power to begin with” and has “occasionally groused about how ungrateful political officials in Puerto Rico were for the administration’s help.” But as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asserted, “the problems of Puerto Rico have a root-cause problem attached to it: We don’t have political power and are not treated as equal citizens.”

    Withholding federal aid from Puerto Rico out of contempt for the island has dire implications, yet CBS, ABC, and NBC have all failed to report on the distressing situation Puerto Ricans currently face -- as well as the disdain the president has consistently shown toward the island.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched the Nexis transcript database for mentions of “Puerto Rico” or “Hurricane Maria” from 7 a.m. EST on March 25 to 9 a.m. EST March 27 for CBS, NBC, and ABC. We found no mentions on any network.

  • Fox "straight news" anchors don't correct misinformation about Trump cuts to food stamp benefits

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, one of the programs the network bills as hard news, provided a platform for Fox Business host Charles Payne to spew unchecked misinformation regarding immigration and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

    In a segment discussing President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for 2019, which includes cuts to SNAP, Payne expanded on a quote from Trump that was displayed on screen, inaccurately claiming that “a large majority of” undocumented people in the United States collect welfare benefits. Payne went on to advocate for a SNAP reform proposal that the Trump administration has suggested, espousing the supposed benefits of what the administration is referring to as a “Harvest Box.”

    As Payne pushed clear misinformation regarding SNAP benefits, two of Fox’s supposed news anchors, Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith, sat silently. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits. Some mixed-status households do receive benefits for members who are eligible, such as U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, but in those cases “the child’s eligibility does not change their parents’ or any other family members’ eligibility for that benefit.” Payne even misrepresented the report (which was produced by an anti-immigrant organization); Breitbart cited in its interview with Trump; that report claimed that “63 percent of non-citizen households end up on welfare,” while Payne suggested the findings applied specifically to individual undocumented immigrants. Moreover, Trump administration officials have openly admitted to The New York Times that the “Harvest Box” proposal has “virtually no chance of being implemented” and is simply “a political gambit by fiscal hawks in the administration aimed at outraging liberals and stirring up members of the president’s own party working on the latest version of the farm bill.” The plan appears in part to be a way to cut SNAP benefits.

    From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

    BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): Let’s talk about budget and welfare reform. Here is the comment from Breitbart from the president, do we have that here? “I don’t like the idea of people coming in and going on welfare for 50 years” -- I think he was talking about immigrants right? Illegals? “And that’s not what they to be able to do -- that’s not what they want to be able to do -- and it’s no good.”

    CHARLES PAYNE (FOX BUSINESS HOST): Well, he was referring, there are some studies out there that show a large majority of illegal immigrants go on public assistance and they stay on there at least for a generation, and it’s very costly to, you know -- this is not necessarily new. You may not hear any president speak like this about it, but, you know, it’s a concern that a lot of American taxpayers have. So, yeah, he put it out there. You know, of course, Nancy Pelosi’s calling this whole thing cruel in the first place, this budget. But, he’s got some other ideas, like this harvest box that the Democrats are against.

    HEMMER: What is that?

    PAYNE: It’s a food box that 16 million people would get. It’s got -- it would cover about 81 percent of people on food stamps. And, here’s the thing, when food stamps first started in 1939, that’s exactly what it was, the same sort of program. You got a dollar’s worth of stamps that you could buy anything with for household goods, and another 50 cents that you bought surplus food from the federal government. And it was, you know, things that -- you know, beans, rice, cornmeal, eggs -- fresh eggs, so it had a two-prong impact, right? You help the American farmer; you also help the consumer, right? It wasn’t spent on things like potato chips, which, you know, no one wants to be honest, but a lot of the money now food stamp recipients receive are spent on non-healthy items. And it’s ironic because Democrats talk about food deserts all the time, but, you know, if you really care about nutrition, it’s an idea to think about.

  • Fox host calls drug testing food stamp applicants "a no-brainer"

    Similar policies have been found unconstitutional and wasteful

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox & Friends guest co-host Pete Hegseth called Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to drug test food stamp applicants a “no-brainer.” Hegseth argued that “taxpayers matter as well,” adding, “even if it's 0.03 percent -- whatever percentage it is -- [does] it not make sense for the government do their due diligence?”

    In fact, similar proposals in other states have been found to be an unconstitutionally unreasonable search. Moveover, such programs are costly and rarely find many drug-positive findings. And, as segment guest Taryn Rosenkranz pointed out, Wisconsin, which already has budget shortfalls, expects only 0.03 percent of people who receive benefits to test positive.

    From the December 7 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): Wisconsin could soon become the first state to drug test food stamp applicants.

    [...]

    Well, those who fail the drug test would receive treatment if they couldn't afford it. Shouldn't this plan be a no-brainer? Here to debate it is Democratic strategist Taryn Rosenkranz and Republican strategist Chris Prudhome. Taryn, I will start with you. So, to a lot of our viewers, it’s going to make common sense. If you want to receive support from the government, let's make sure you’re clean in doing so. Where does that logic go wrong?

    TARYN ROSENKRANZ: Sure. And I'm going to take the moral argument out of it for a second, about protecting the most vulnerable in our country and in that state and just look at the example of what Wisconsin is actually doing. So, self-admitted by the governor, there is about 0.03, that’s less than a half a percent, of people they expect to test positive. That means this is not a widespread problem. It's not rampant.

    The state, just so you know, so the state of Wisconsin has actually had terrible budget shortfalls and shortages, and they’re having all kinds of issues. So to spend like scarce resources on less than half of one percent, which isn't a rampant problem, it’s actually not going to encourage the jobs and more drug-free workers in the workplace. It's really not going to have much of an impact at all. But it is going to take much-needed resources away from prevention programs, job trainings, education. The schools are already having budget shortfalls there. I mean, what we really care about is educating our children and making sure our families have what they need. Aside, like I said, the moral argument that this is a safety net for the most vulnerable. So, keeping all of that in mind, I don't think it's a no-brainer at all.

    HEGSETH: Well, Chris, I mean, taxpayers matter as well. I’ll put up a statistic here. The amount of food stamp enrollees in Wisconsin, 670,000 of a population of almost six million. So, even if it's 0.03 percent -- whatever percentage it is -- is it not make sense for the government to do their due diligence and make sure, if they're giving out taxpayer dollars, they’re giving it to people who will use it responsibly?

    CHRIS PRUDHOME: Absolutely, Pete. Look, one is too much. One dollar is too much. One person is too much. We have to start cutting down on wasteful spending. And look, Gov. [Scott] Walker is absolutely right. It is not unconstitutional to go get a job to take care of yourself. We -- welfare is not designed for you to stay on top of and to be a crutch. There are people who are career welfare recipients. We have to stop that. It’s time to  stop enabling people to be on the welfare system. This is not a plan to target the low-income. This is a plan to target what's wrong. And what is wrong is being on welfare, is doing drugs. And that 0.3 percent (sic), I'm certainly sure there are many other individuals who may do low-level drugs or other things. This is about a much bigger picture.

    HEGSETH: Sure. Taryn, I mean, you can't be on drugs and be in the military. Why should you be able to be on drugs and receive my taxpayer dollars? And this program provides for follow-up treatment for those who are testing positive. So, is this not a way for government to evaluate efficiency in their services, but also take care of people who are addicted?

    ROSENKRANZ: Well, the part that no one’s mentioning is that this has been deemed unconstitutional. So I know you said that. It has been deemed unconstitutional, not for the reasons you said, which are -- everyone would agree with that, that you don’t -- you certainly don't. But why it's unconstitutional is that it's been deemed that way for an unlawful search. So if we’re looking at this just from the law of the land --

    HEGSETH: So I can’t vet --

    ROSENKRANZ: -- which we all like to uphold the Constitution, right? We all want to uphold the Constitution --

    PRUDHOME: But that was actually before -- but that was before they inserted the new policy, which is a drug-testing aspect.

    ROSENKRANZ: But the Trump administration has not acted on that yet. So right now, this is Gov. Walker acting alone with scarce budget resources focusing on something that's not going to be helpful. I agree with you that welfare reform, and I think the Democrats in Wisconsin agree that welfare reform, is something that we want to look at. But more importantly we want to look at how we can prevent drugs in the first place. And that’s after-school programs, education, and job training in the workforce.

    PRUDHOME: But we also should not be enablers.

    HEGSETH: Last word briefly. Chris, last word briefly. Very briefly, Chris.

    PRUDHOME: But we also don't need to be enablers of people.

    ROSENKRANZ: No one wants to be an enabler, sir.

    PRUDHOME: And look, this is a certainly -- certainly it was a federal [INAUDIBLE]. This is why the governor put a new piece of the policy in place, which is this aspect of it to actually drug test. That was not originally in it before the federal appeal.

  • Fox News can’t believe 44 million Americans qualify for food assistance

    The number of food stamp recipients is roughly equal to the number of people living in poverty, far below number who qualify for assistance

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox News contributors and hosts defended President Donald Trump’s draconian budget request for fiscal year 2018 by coalescing around a talking point also voiced by the White House that spending cuts for nutrition assistance programs are justified because of their gut feeling that too many people are using them. In the real world, the number of food stamp recipients is roughly equal to the number of Americans living in poverty, which has remained elevated since the last recession ended.

    During a May 23 press conference discussing Trump’s budget request, NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander asked Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to defend the president’s decision to cut programs like Social Security and Medicaid that he had promised to protect during the campaign. Mulvaney falsely claimed that no person who “really needs” assistance will be removed from the programs, and turned to Trump’s proposed new restrictions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” as an example. Mulvaney noted that the number of SNAP recipients “spiked during the recession” to over 42 million and complained that it remains high today “eight years removed from the end of the recession.” Mulvaney ended his remark by wondering “why is the number still that high?”:

    Mulvaney’s unfounded gut feeling that the number of people receiving SNAP benefits is too high was endlessly reiterated by Fox News and Fox Business personalities who have a long track record of attacking the program. On the May 22 edition of America’s News Headquarters, contributor Mercedes Schlapp bemoaned the so-called “entitlement mentality” of Americans who might oppose unnecessary cuts to food assistance. Later that day, on Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Cavuto complained the number of SNAP recipients has “ballooned to over 44 million today” (it’s actually 42 million), baselessly suggesting it was “not sustainable,” while conservative columnist Carrie Sheffield falsely claimed that federal food assistance has “crowded out the private sector.”

    Fox returned to the complaint on May 23, dedicating time on Fox Business’ Cavuto: Coast to Coast and Risk & Reward to the same talking point that 44 million SNAP recipients seemed like too many and therefore the program must be cut. On Making Money with Charles Payne, host Payne and guest Liz Peek falsely argued that food assistance programs are meant only to be “emergency programs” while lamenting the number of users. During that day’s edition of Your World, Cavuto returned again to his complaint about the number of people enrolled in SNAP, remarking that if 44 million Americans are really in need of food assistance “we’re Mozambique, we’re not America.” Moments later, Cavuto was joined by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who defended adding new restrictions to food assistance programs and agreed with Cavuto’s characterization that there is no way so many people truly qualify for assistance.

    Contrary to this misleading characterization, the number of SNAP recipients is actually lower than the number of people who qualify for the program and is roughly equal to the number of people living in poverty (see graph below). One would expect the number of SNAP beneficiaries to largely mirror the number of Americans living in poverty because the program is available, with some restrictions, for individuals earning up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

    For much of the program’s history, the number of people who actually participated in the federal food assistance program was far less than the number who struggled with poverty and the number who potentially qualified for assistance. That began to change during the Bush and Obama administrations, when technological improvements and a bipartisan effort to tackle stigma helped get more deserving families and individuals enrolled in the program. Rates of waste, fraud, and abuse in the system have actually fallen as participation increased and, according to a November 2016 report from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, the gap between the number of Americans who qualify for assistance and the number who receive it has been narrowing for years:

  • Some of the best media take downs of Trump’s “repugnant grab bag” of a budget

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    On May 23, President Donald Trump released his vision for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget titled, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” which called for deep cuts to Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student loan assistance, and anti-poverty programs geared toward working- and middle-class Americans while providing gargantuan tax cuts for top income earners and increasing military spending. As details of the budget began to surface in the lead up to the announcement, Media Matters identified some of the best take downs from journalists and experts hammering the proposal for its “ruthless” cuts.