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  • Trump’s pick for National Economic Council is a CNBC host who gives bad financial advice

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & MADELINE PELTZ

    President Donald Trump has told people he has chosen CNBC's Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn as the director of the National Economic Council. Kudlow has no formal training in economics, and he has a history of making poor financial predictions, pushing conservative economic talking points, and making outrageous and offensive comments.

  • News outlets fail to report on what the GOP health care rollback means for LGBTQ Americans

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH


    Sarah Wasko/ Media Matters

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans will face greater hardship if Republicans in Congress succeed in reversing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) patient protections and expansion of Medicaid -- and this is especially true for people living with HIV -- yet, print and television news have almost completely ignored their stories.

    LGBTQ Americans deal with higher rates of poverty, greater need for Medicaid, and higher rates of HIV infection than the general population. Republican plans to decimate Medicaid and roll back patient protections will create disproportionate impacts for LGBTQ Americans. Yet, according to new research from Media Matters, major print and television news outlets have been virtually silent on how GOP health care proposals may harm members of the LGBTQ community.

    Media Matters reviewed major broadcast and cable news providers (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) available via Nexis from May 4 through July 13 and found only two significant segments discussing how the Republican health care rollback would affect LGBTQ people and only two other unrelated segments discussing how the rollback would affect Americans living with HIV. A Media Matters review during the same period of time of print newspapers available via Nexis and Factiva (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal) found only three print articles that discussed how the GOP health care plan may affect the LGBTQ community and/or people living with HIV.

    A July 12 analysis from Media Matters found a similar lack of reporting by major television and print news outlets on how communities of color may be affected by Republican health care proposals. Additional Media Matters research has found that television news missed an opportunity to report on the unprecedented nature of the Senate’s health care secrecy and that television coverage had drowned out reports on how the legislation would impact tens of millions of Americans in favor of airing stories focused on the bill’s political machinations. Previous Media Matters research revealed that newspapers kept reports on health care off the front page during crucial periods of debate and that broadcast and cable news coverage neglected to consider diversity when booking guests to discuss health care-related topics.

    LGBTQ news outlets including The Advocate, NBC Out, and The Washington Blade have all covered how Republicans plans to roll back Medicaid would affect LGBTQ Americans as well as the more than 1 million people living with HIV. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), Medicaid is of significant importance for many LGBTQ Americans who face higher rates of poverty than the general population, and these higher rates of poverty correlate with fewer LGBTQ Americans having health insurance. On July 6, CAP reported that the ACA repeal legislation being considered by the Republican-led Senate -- the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) -- may result in up to 560,000 LGBTQ Americans losing Medicaid coverage while restricting health care access for transgender Americans. From the report:

    The BCRA slashes Medicaid by $772 billion over 10 years and would end Medicaid expansion over time:

    • Medicaid covers at least 1.8 million LGBTQ adults, including 31 percent of LGBTQ adults living with a disability and 40 percent of LGBTQ adults with incomes under 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
    • An estimated 560,000 LGBTQ adults will lose coverage if Medicaid expansion is ended.
    • The BCRA prohibits federal Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood for one year; Planned Parenthood is one of the country’s largest providers of transgender-inclusive health care.

    On February 14, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion has lowered the uninsurance rates for people living with HIV from 22 percent to 15 percent from 2012 to 2014. The California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers found that in California alone, the Medicaid expansion covered an additional 11,500 people living with HIV. Coverage and care for those living with HIV is of significant concern for many in the LGBTQ community, as the Kaiser Foundation points out, because gay and bisexual men make up 56 percent of Americans living with HIV and 55 percent of all HIV-related deaths in the U.S. despite comprising just 2 percent of the American population.

    If congressional Republicans are successful enacting their health care agenda, it could cause real harm to the nearly 69 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid, making it crucially important that news outlets tell their stories.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and Factiva search of print editions of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal from May 4 through July 13, 2017. Media Matters also conducted a Nexis search of available transcripts of broadcast and cable news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC over the same time period.

    We identified and reviewed all broadcast and cable news segments and noneditorial articles that included any of the following keywords: gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual or LGBT or LGBTQ or queer or same-sex within 10 words of health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or Affordable Care Act or CBO or BHCA or Medicaid.

  • It’s never been more important to talk about the human cost of rolling back health care

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Republican senators produced a version of health care reform behind closed doors that would repeal and replace key aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and would put potentially millions of people at risk of losing access to vital medical care. Americans deserve to hear from those who would be most directly impacted by the proposed legislation.

    On June 22, Senate Republicans released their proposed health care reform bill, titled the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA). The bill was drafted in secret by a small group of white Republican men without input from women, minorities, Senate Democrats, or even the majority of Senate Republicans. Overall, the Senate bill is largely similar to the House’s earlier health care plan, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), in that it guts Medicaid spending, denies federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year, reduces subsidies for health care coverage, and offers a windfall in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

    As if taking cue from the Senate Republicans, cable and broadcast news media have largely shut out women and minorities in their coverage of the Senate’s health care bill, focusing instead on white men to provide analysis and opinion. As Media Matters has documented, men comprised two-thirds of all appearances on prime-time cable news, broadcast morning and nightly news shows, and Sunday morning political shows during discussions of the Republican health care bill. The study also found that 87 percent of all appearances were made by white guests. Media Matters found this trend with guests continued on cable news into the first full day of coverage of the Senate bill’s release.

    However, reports indicate that women and minorities would be disproportionately affected by the Republican Party’s legislation. The LGBTQ community, people of color, and women would be disproportionately hit by cuts to Medicaid. For low-income Americans, losing health insurance could mean they would not receive regular care needed to keep them alive, even if they were to go to the emergency room. The GOP plan may also force those with disabilities into institutions. Women would find that some realities of being a woman -- having heavy periods or getting pregnant -- are now pre-existing conditions.

    Medicaid cuts have a real impact on people’s lives -- impacts evident in rare examples of television news telling these stories. One such story was presented during the June 23 edition of CBS’ CBS Evening News, when reporter Mark Strassmann interviewed Jodi Maness, a 22-year-old mother and Medicaid recipient. He said she is worried about losing Medicaid and having to pay more for health care, saying that her biggest fear is the possible impact on her small children:

    But highlighting the personal impact of the Republican health care plans has been rare, as television news channels largely have not emphasized the impact these proposals would have on women and minorities. Last Febuary, Media Matters reported that cable news outlets featured only three prime-time interviews of individuals who had participated in congressional town halls during the February 18-26 week -- informally called “Resistance Recess” -- instead relying primarily on talking heads to discuss the week of action. It’s still true that audiences would be better served by hearing directly from the women and minorities who would be directly impacted by this legislation rather than just pundits endlessly debating it.

    If the congressional Republicans’ health care agenda is successful, it would cause real harm to wide swaths of Americans. With nearly 75 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, there are plenty of individuals who would be affected by the Senate’s health care bill for the media to interview, if only the press would be willing to sit down with them.

  • How shameful and misleading Wash. Post reports on disability insurance could be the preamble for cuts

    "Mean-spirited" and "cartoonish" depictions of Social Security Disability Insurance are a disservice to millions of Americans

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Disability advocates hammered The Washington Post for its second misleading portrayal of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, saying it was a “mean-spirited” and “cartoonish” illustration of the struggles of those living with poverty in rural America. The second feature-length profile published by the Post has drawn consternation for its poverty-shaming, while also generating fears that these misleading depictions from mainstream news outlets could set the pretext for draconian budget cuts to programs that provide basic economic security to millions of Americans.

    The Post’s previous foray into coverage of SSDI recipients did not end well; Media Matters joined disability advocates in criticizing the paper’s “dystopian portrait” of the program and its enrollees and was later found to be replete with critical data errors. The piece promoted the same misleading talking points about the program that are commonly touted by right-wing media. Despite these concerns, the Post’s editorial board used the deeply flawed article as its proof for justifying unnecessary cuts to the SSDI program.

    The paper’s June 2 article in its series on disability coverage is just as misleading and problematic as the first. The article, titled “Generations, disabled,” attempts to chronicle the trials of a low-income Missouri family that relies on meager SSDI benefits. The article relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence drawn from the Tidwell family to buttress characterizations of SSDI and its recipients as succumbing to multi-generational dependence on federal assistance.

    The article earnestly focused on the fact that one or more members of four generations of Tidwells have received federal assistance and detailed their daily routines in a way that political scientist Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress (CAP) likened to the depictions of poverty and disability in Of Mice and Men. As CAP’s Rebecca Vallas pointed out in her damning review, “the article’s text makes no mention” of the fact “that disability often runs in families” and neglects to mention that disability benefits are “incredibly hard to get.”

    The Post seemed to depict generational disability as a cultural problem, but as Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic pointed out, the article never provided any data to prove this or demonstrate that multiple generations of a family receiving SSDI is evidence of them being undeserving. Vox correspondent Matthew Yglesias voiced even stronger criticism, labeling the article as “incredibly mean-spirited” and “smack[ing] of the worst kind of moral panic.”

    Issues with the Post’s story didn’t end there. In a June 5 column published by The Poynter Institute, journalist S.I. Rosenbaum added that the article misled readers by claiming to describe a family “on disability” without ever verifying that the Tidwell family are indeed all receiving benefits from SSDI, rather than other anti-poverty programs.

    The generally exploitative tone of the piece was not the primary problem with the Post’s return to the topic of disability. The biggest problem created by the piece is how it could be used by political interests seeking to implement deep cuts to the American social safety net.

    As Vallas pointed out in her response, by “pushing the nastiest of myths about Social Security disability benefits and the people who rely on them,” the Post set the pretext for budget cuts that will restrict access to the program. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities voiced the same concern, arguing that “reporting by anecdote runs the risk of fostering harmful policy changes” such as those already proposed by the Trump administration. Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) came to a similar conclusion, mocking the Post’s “poetic description” of farming jobs available in rural Missouri, which suggested that disability recipients simply refuse to work those jobs. Baker added that the United States actually has one of the least generous disability programs in the world, but countries with more generous programs are not suffering labor shortages:

    The obvious next segment in this series would have a Post reporter going to Germany or the Netherlands or some of the other countries that manages to have a larger percentage of their population working even though they have considerably more generous disability systems. The article can tell readers how they manage to structure their programs so that everyone doesn't quit their jobs and fake disability so that they can live off the government. For some reason, I don't think this is where the Post series is going.

    We have already seen a Post report on SSDI result in the paper’s editorial board calling for unnecessary cuts to the program in a way eerily reminiscent to Fox News’ campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which immediately resulted in Republican-authored legislation in Congress slashing the program and eventually trickled down to GOP-led state houses. The Trump administration is already targeting Social Security’s disability program for budget cuts next year and media outlets have largely failed to hold the president accountable for an obviously broken campaign promise to safeguard Social Security. The American people would be well-served if, rather than publishing more dehumanizing portrayals of disability recipients, the Post and other news outlets contextualize the hardship millions of Americans would face if SSDI and other vital programs are subjected to new cuts and restrictions.

  • Journalists and experts slam Trump's budget plan to eliminate HUD program that mostly benefits "low-income groups"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    While many conservative media voices have been cheering President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that would cut billions in vital programs for the impoverished and disadvantaged, experts and reporters who focus on one of the most far-reaching programs -- Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) -- say its proposed elimination would impact more citizens than most.

    Trump initially proposed eliminating the CDBG funds earlier this year when his budget blueprint was first announced. His full budget, released Tuesday, still includes a total CDBG elimination.

    The 42-year-old program, enacted by the Ford administration as a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides some $3 billion for local communities to use for everything from senior centers to housing and road construction to drug treatment, say experts.

    And when the cuts were first proposed in March, reporters who cover such programs contended that claims of waste and corruption in the funding are misleading.

    “They just think it's government waste, that these are slush funds of local officials and particularly that they were funneled to special projects,” Liz Farmer, public finance writer for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., said of critics. “But the block grants hit everybody, particularly needy populations because that is what local governments tend to want to spend the money on.”

    Since Trump’s budget blueprint was revealed on March 16, many conservative commentators have cheered the spending plan for its efforts to cut programs from climate research to public broadcasting.

    Several have also taken on the CDBG program specifically. Among them is Reason magazine’s Scott Shackford, who wrote, “The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated. Much like the corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that this money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections for various projects that aren't really about helping the poor at all.”

    Similar anti-CDBG pieces have been published at Breitbart.comWashington Examiner and The Washington Times.

    But those who rely on the funding, and others who report on it, say such claims are unfounded and the program actually helps more people in more places than many other federal funding sources do.

    “In Philly, they help residents who are facing foreclosure to keep their houses, foreclosure assistance, and for homeowners who are low-income and own their houses, they help with repairs of those houses,” Aubrey Whelan, a local government and community services reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, said when the cuts were initially revealed. “It is a lot for commercial development, aid to small businesses.”

    She said Philadelphia alone receives about $39 million in CDBG funds, with much of it going to affordable housing and providing assistance to small businesses in hard-hit low-income neighborhoods.

    “City officials said it would wholesale eliminate programs, not just have them operating at a limited capacity,” said Whelan. “It’s something that people are pretty concerned about here. It affects a lot of different people.”

    Whelan, Farmer, and other journalists we spoke with when the CDBG elimination was first proposed said they find little to no problems in CDBG management, contrary to claims found in conservative media.

    Most said the real story is how the cutbacks would hurt the most needy in many of their communities.

    “Palm Beach County has been using this funding to address underserved areas, to tackle homelessness and for vulnerable groups,” said Skyler Swisher of the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “If those funds are going to be cut, you are going to have some local officials who are not going to be very happy.”

    Swisher, who covers the county that is home to Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club, said the county receives about $5.8 million in CDBG funds each year, which has helped with abandoned building demolition, code enforcement, water and sewer improvements, and a homeless shelter's operation. It has also supported transitional housing for those impacted by domestic violence. 

    He also pointed out that the proposed cuts would come while Trump costs the county $60,000 per day in overtime for police officers every time he visits, according to the county sheriff’s office.

    “The biggest beneficiaries are some of the most low-income communities of Palm Beach County,” Swisher said of the grants.

    Another place that would feel the pain is El Paso, TX, which receives about $6 million in CDBG funds, according to Veronica Soto, the city’s director of community and human development.

    “We use the bulk of the money to do investments, reinvestments into low-income neighborhoods,” Soto said earlier this year. “We have funded improvements to parks in lower and moderate income areas, we have senior centers, we have done curb cuts, sidewalk gaps. It would mean those projects would not move forward. Because a lot of our money goes to parks, the kids would be impacted.”

    She said the Trump budget cuts would also mean cutting 33 city jobs, nine in her department.

    “I would have to lay myself off,” Soto said. “Seventy-five percent of my salary is from grants.”

    Kevin Howard, manager of the community development division for Little Rock, AR, said the cuts would affect about 10,000 people in his community.

    “The citizens benefit from this in different ways,” he said. “We do a lot of homeowner-occupied rehabs and public service grants for health services, meals on wheels, and private wheelchair ramps for senior citizens.”

    Asked about claims by some in the media that these programs are wasteful or mismanaged, he replied: “These are not handouts; these are people who cannot do it themselves. I have never seen any corruption or mismanagement.”

    Roland Garton, president of The Grant Helpers of Champagne, IL, a grant writing consulting firm that aids local communities in filing for such grants, said CDBG cuts would hurt the neediest.

    “Since they tend to target low-income groups, those would be the hardest hit,” Garton said. “This is money that big cities and small cities both have access to. There are a lot of programs that focus on one or the other. But these have broad applications to all cities. The hits would be broad. States that are weak economically would be hardest hit.”

    The proposed cuts have also been criticized by the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Republican Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. He issued a statement in March condemning the proposed cuts: 

    “Community Development Block Grants are the only federal funding source that gives city leaders some discretion in how the money is spent, and mayors have used them to leverage private investment, create affordable housing, spur economic development, rebuild infrastructure and provide services that strengthen metro areas. America’s mayors will continue to work with our many champions in both the House and Senate to ensure that critically-needed tools like CDBG funds and the HOME Investment Partnership are fully funded.”

  • 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: