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Similar policies have been found unconstitutional and wasteful
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.
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The number of food stamp recipients is roughly equal to the number of people living in poverty, far below number who qualify for assistance
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:
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.
Budget proposal will include deep cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, programs Trump promised to protect during campaign
Multiple news outlets have reported on the harsh human toll of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is expected to gut programs that guarantee basic living standards, including parts of Medicaid and Social Security. These cuts directly contradict Trump’s promise to save the programs “without cuts.”
The White House first hinted at slashing programs that help working- and middle-class Americans on February 26 when, according to Bloomberg, Trump floated proposals to increase defense spending by 10 percent while cutting programs including assistance for low-income Americans while still promising not to touch Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The White House claimed these drastic cuts would help spur economic growth, an absurd claim that was resoundingly ridiculed by economists as “deep voodoo” and “wholly unrealistic.” The administration’s initial budgetary proposals were so drastic and poorly thought out that they stunned many observers and experts. The White House even advocated cutting assistance to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would be particularly harmful to “small-town America,” and Meals on Wheels, which “doesn’t make economic sense” and would cruelly deny millions of elderly Americans basic companionship and a hot meal.
On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the White House will unveil a formal federal budget proposal that goes even further than the administration’s earlier indications by proposing “massive cuts to Medicaid” and other anti-poverty public assistance programs. On May 22, Axios reported that the president plans to cut $1.7 trillion over 10 years from federal assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which collectively serve tens of millions of people. (Axios incorrectly stated that Trump’s budget plan “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare,” before outlining Trump’s plan to cut SSDI and incorporate massive Medicaid restrictions that would become law if his Obamacare repeal plan is ever enacted.)
As details of Trump’s budget plan continued to leak, some media outlets explained the devastating consequences for millions of Americans if the White House gets its way and these drastic cuts take effect. They also explained that Trump’s embrace of deep cuts to components of Medicaid and Social Security represent a betrayal of his promises from the campaign.
CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explained on the May 22 edition of CNN Newsroom that much of the money being cut from mandatory spending would come from Medicaid, which could see up to a 25 percent reduction in federal funding, pushing the financial burden onto the states and kicking 14 million people off their health insurance programs. Romans mentioned that protecting Medicaid is one of many campaign promises from Trump “that are turning out not to be true.”
On the May 22 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing went even further in breaking down the human toll of Trump’s budget cuts with NBC News senior editor Beth Fouhy and New York Times national reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The show aired part of an interview with a mother of two young children, who told Fouhy that if these cuts are enacted, the costs of care for her child with cerebral palsy will bankrupt her. Then they showed a clip of Trump on the campaign trail proclaiming that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Alcindor discussed a report she wrote for the Times earlier this month about the human costs of budget cuts that would lead eliminate programs that help provide small communities with access to clean drinking water, drug rehabilitation centers, and jobs programs:
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In Fact, Report Shows SNAP Beneficiaries Have Similar Purchasing Habits To Non-SNAP Shoppers
A recent article in The New York Times grossly misinterpreted the findings of a government review of nationwide grocery purchases by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” The article incorrectly portrayed the study as showing that “a disproportionate amount of food stamp money is going toward unhealthful foods,” when in reality it showed that Americans across the board purchase similar items and that overall, everyone could be eating in healthier ways. The suggestion that SNAP recipients are somehow guilty of wasting money on frivolous food purchases is a tired right-wing media attack, and the Times’ sloppy handling of the recently released data is sure to embolden opponents of federal anti-poverty programs.
On November 18, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the federal food security program, released a report analyzing purchases at “a leading grocery retailer” in 2011. A key finding in the data was that “food purchases, consumption patterns, and dietary outcomes among SNAP participants and higher income households are more similar than different.” Recipients of SNAP benefits spent slightly more of their grocery budget on meats and “sweetened beverages” (which include many juices and soft drinks) while non-SNAP households spent slightly more on vegetables and “high fat dairy” items. Overall, “differences in the expenditure patterns … were relatively limited” across all major grocery categories:
According to the USDA’s summary of its findings, households that receive SNAP benefits and households that do not receive benefits have similar consumption habits, including the habit of purchasing food items like “sweetened beverages,” “soft drinks,” “salty snacks,” and other junk foods that “may not be fully consistent with” preferred dietary guidelines. Indeed, according to the full November 2016 report, the seven most common grocery purchases of SNAP and non-SNAP consumers are virtually the same, with “soft drinks” ranking first for SNAP households and second for all other customers and “bag snacks” ranking fourth for SNAP households and fifth for others:
However, The New York Times published a headline that seems to condemn low-income Americans for buying soft drinks -- “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” -- and its piece noted that advocates of healthy living “have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.”
Rebecca Vallas and Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress slammed the article in a blog for Talk Poverty, noting that the misleading article was accompanied by an image “of a grocery cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and a store aisle that is nothing but a wall of soda.”
Talk Poverty cited several examples of research refuting the Times’ stance along with experts who “took to social media to highlight the study’s actual findings”:
Aside from missing the point of the USDA study, the Times’ report has several other issues. From the outset, the article defines SNAP as a “$74 billion food stamp program,” which makes the program sound extremely large even though it actually comprises a relatively small piece of the $3.6 trillion federal dollars spent in 2011. Reporting incomprehensible raw numbers in this way is not informative, it’s a scare tactic, and The New York Times publicly committed in October 2013 to improving its reporting on exactly this issue.
Furthermore, by promoting the misleading premise that SNAP users are wasting tax dollars on junk food, the Times provided ammunition to political interests set on destroying the program. Right-wing media outlets have spent years demonizing SNAP and other food assistance programs based on the premise that these outlets know better than the recipients themselves what the latter should be eating. This misinformation campaign has already impacted public policy, spurring Republican lawmakers in several states and in Congress to pursue unnecessary restrictions that hurt working families.
Finally, buried in the eighth paragraph of the Times piece, the paper quotes a USDA spokesperson who points out that the question “Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?” can be applied to “all households,” not just SNAP recipients.
Even after admitting 15 paragraphs down that “food stamp recipients and other households generally made similar purchases,” the Times pivoted back to claiming the data are “deeply troubling” to public health experts focused on the pervasiveness of a sugar-rich diet on obesity. The Times quoted obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, who called for restrictions against using SNAP on food items “that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.” The article chose not to cite an April 2014 report by public health experts affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which found that childhood access to food stamps in their current form actually already contributes to “a significant reduction” in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes later in life.
If the Times wanted to tackle the problems created by the traditional American junk food diet, the paper could have followed the example set by comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, whose excellent October 25, 2014, takedown of the sugar industry addressed the issue without targeting a single low-income family.
**CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post questioned the Times' inclusion of New York University professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health Marion Nestle's claim that SNAP expenditures on soft drinks are "a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry." Media Matters cited a November 2016 USDA report which indicated that the amount of SNAP funds going toward soft drink purchases equaled $357.7 million, not billions of dollars. Dr. Nestle's office reached out following the publication of this piece to contend that if the $357.7 million figure in the USDA report, which was based off figures provided by a "leading grocery retailer" in 2011, was representative of nationwide SNAP use, total expenses on soft drinks would amount to roughly $3.8 billion annually. We have removed reference to Nestle's comments in response to her office's feedback.
With that said, Media Matters stands by its conclusion that the article poorly informed readers about the nutrition assistance program and may have misled readers into believing soft drink consumption levels among SNAP recipients are uniquely inflated by the program -- a conclusion shared by The New York Times' public editor, who argued that the article "didn't do much to advance the discussion."
Tweet Could Encourage "More Hostile Views Toward Government Programs To Assist Black People"
The Daily Caller included racial imagery in a story and accompanying link to a post entitled “Republicans Hint At Food Stamp Reform But Stop Short Of Calling For Overhaul” featuring an image of two black people holding “replicas of food stamps” in front of a Shepard Fairey-style poster of President Obama.
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) December 7, 2016
TV One’s Roland Martin took on the racially offensive tweet, noting they tweeted a food stamp story and show “two Black people & Obama poster. I see y’all @TuckerCarlson!”
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) December 7, 2016
The Daily Caller has routinely used racially charged headlines such as “White man overruns indigenous peoples with superior technology,” which was later changed, and “Barack Obama, Wife Beater," used in a gallery of images of the President where a sleeveless shirt was visible underneath his shirt and tie.
Vox’s Dylan Matthews reported on the problematic use of racially charged imagery in stories about government programs by highlighting a book by Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg which found images associating black people with poverty led study participants to “express significantly more hostile views toward government programs to assist black people,” and specifically that “the effect on their expressed racial views was stronger than the effect on their expressed opinions on welfare.”
The Daily Caller is owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who was previously also the site’s Editor-in-Chief, a role he resigned in order to begin hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. Since the show’s debut three weeks ago Carlson has already used his prime-time platform to defend the racist past of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) by attacking the “totally discredited” NAACP, claim that “the American Nazi Party and the KKK don't really exist in a meaningful [way],” and allow a guest to proclaim that “there is very little evidence of classic racism anymore.” Carlson has recently come under fire after lecturing The New York Times about tweets from Times reporters he deemed crossed the line while ignoring the hateful rhetoric coming from his own news outlet.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new series of proposals -- released June 7 in a report commissioned by House Republicans titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- aims to restructure federal anti-poverty programs, but they heavily rely on myths commonly promoted by right-wing media outlets that mislead about poverty and shame the poor. On June 6, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released its own plan to reform and restructure anti-poverty programs in the United States, offering an example of what serious proposals look like when informed by serious economic research, rather than by right-wing media myths.