REPORT: The Food Stamp Cuts The Media Won't Tell You About

Cable and broadcast nightly news programs have remained completely silent on pending automatic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as food stamps -- which will have negative impacts on the economy and low-income groups.

UPDATE (11/4): In the period following Media Matters' initial publication of this report, evening news programs provided coverage of the automatic cuts. From October 29 to November 1 -- the day the cuts when into effect -- MSNBC devoted nine segments in the originally examined 5 p.m. - 11 p.m. window.  NBC and CBS each provided one segment. CNN, Fox News, and ABC provided no segments in the same timeframe.

Automatic Cuts To SNAP Set To Take Place November 1 

Automatic $5 Billion Cut To SNAP Set For November 1. According to The Washington Post's Wonkblog, if Congress fails to act by November 1, a provision for additional funding for SNAP established in the 2009 stimulus bill will expire, amounting to an immediate $5 billion cut for the program over the next year:

But the food-stamp program is now set to downsize in the weeks ahead. There's a big automatic cut scheduled for Nov. 1, as a temporary boost from the 2009 stimulus bill expires. That change will trim about $5 billion from federal food-stamp spending over the coming year. [The Washington Post10/28/13]

Nightly News Broadcasts Ignore Cut To SNAP

Nightly News Programs Fail To Mention Pending Cuts. Over the past month, cable and broadcast nightly news programs failed to mention the automatic cuts to SNAP set to roll out on November 1. While many programs did provide coverage of SNAP, these mentions focused instead on the number of people enrolled in the program or congressional attempts to further cut spending through provisions in the Farm Bill.

Cuts Would Deliver A Blow To Economic Recovery

CBPP: SNAP Reduction Would Cut Off Crucial Money That Is Stimulating The Economy. According to an analysis of the automatic November 1 cut to SNAP, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that the cut will jeopardize the strength of the current economic recovery, resulting in negative economic impacts:

[T]he November benefit cut will reduce, by millions of dollars in every state, the flow of money that not only would help families afford to eat, but also would inject money into the economy.  Studies show that in a distressed economy, every dollar of SNAP benefits creates at least about $1.70 in economic activity, as SNAP recipients spend their benefits on food quickly.  For example, California and Texas will each lose over $400 million in SNAP benefits that would have helped their residents eat in 2014; the potential economic impact is even greater. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/24/13]

CAP: SNAP Cuts Would Lead To Job Losses. In a March 2012 analysis of the effects of cutting funding for SNAP, the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that “each $1 billion dollar reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eliminates 13,718 jobs,” mostly in food-related industries. Given CAP's estimates, the pending $5 billion cut to the program could result in more than 68,000 job losses in the coming year. [Center for American Progress, 3/19/12]

Program Cuts Would Have Devastating Impact On Working Poor

CBPP: SNAP Cut Will Reduce Average Benefit To Less Than $1.40 Per Meal. According to an analysis by the CBPP, the automatic cuts to SNAP will affect 48 million recipients, reducing the monthly benefit for a family of four by $36. Furthermore, the analysis notes that without the additional funding from the 2009 stimulus, “SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2014 will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/24/13, emphasis original]

CBPP: Cuts Will Disproportionately Affect Children, Seniors, And People With Disabilities. The same CBPP analysis noted that since the majority of SNAP recipients include children, seniors, and people with disabilities, these groups will feel the greatest hit from the November 1 spending reductions:

The benefit cut will affect all households that receive SNAP, the majority of which include children, seniors, or people with disabilities.  Nationally, more than 21 million children -- that is, more than 1 in 4 of all children -- live in a household that receives SNAP.  At least a quarter of children receive SNAP benefits in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia; in some states, this figure is more than 40 percent.  November's SNAP cut for households with children will total $3.5 billion in the remaining 11 months of fiscal year 2014.  Similarly, more than 9 million seniors and people with disabilities receive SNAP.  Their households will experience a $1.2 billion benefit cut over the same period.  [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/24/13]


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from September 29 through October 28.  We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: SNAP or food stamps or nutrition or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. When transcripts were incomplete, internal video archives were reviewed.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Crossfire, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. 

For shows that aired re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.