2 Success Stories That Undermine Right-Wing Media's Food Stamp Delusion


Recent profiles of successful individuals illustrate how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as “food stamps” -- helps disadvantaged people achieve success, delivering a blow to common right-wing narratives about the program cultivating laziness among recipients.

On February 19, social networking giant Facebook purchased WhatsApp -- a messaging application for smartphones -- for $19 billion. The move made WhatsApp Inc. co-founder Jan Koum a billionaire overnight, with a projected net worth of $6.8 billion.

Multiple news outlets noted that Koum's success was a "rags-to-riches" story, and highlighted the fact that as a child, his family received food stamps. From Business Insider:

WhatsApp co-founder, Jan Koum, 37, was born in Ukraine. He arrived in the U.S. when he was just 16 years old and his family struggled. They lived on food stamps, venture capitalist Jim Goetz revealed in a blog post.

In fact, Koum's family picked up their food stamps only a couple of blocks away from WhatsApp's offices in Mountain View, Calif., reports Wired's David Rowan.

Koum is not the only prominent person making headlines who has relied on SNAP at some point in their life. On the February 17 edition of MSNBC's NOW, host Alex Wagner profiled Olympic speed skater Emily Scott. In June 2013, Scott, who had been working at a medical supply company while training 8 hours per day in preparation for Sochi, was forced to apply for food stamps when her monthly Olympic stipend was cut to just $600. As Wagner noted, Scott is the second ranked American speed skater and will compete in the speed skating quarterfinals on February 21.

The success of these two individuals -- one now a billionaire and the other competing in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- helps dispel common myths about food stamp recipients.

In recent years, right-wing media have rushed to demonize food stamp recipients, often portraying them as lazy, dependent, or unwilling to work. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has even gone so far as to suggest that children facing hunger should dumpster dive as an alternative to government assistance.

This distorted depiction of the program's beneficiaries culminated in a wildly misleading Fox News report on Jason Greenslate, “a California surfer and aspiring musician.” In the report, Fox described Greenslate as “the new face of food stamps,” a blatant attempt to portray his lifestyle as characteristic of all food stamp recipients.

Of course, right-wing media's view of those that rely on food stamps is out of touch with reality -- most food stamp recipients stay on the program for short periods of time, 41 percent of them live in a house with earnings, and a majority of recipients are either children or elderly. Furthermore, the program keeps millions out of poverty every year.

On the heels of the Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp, the Huffington Post profiled a number of prominent people who have had to rely on food stamps, ranging from musician Bruce Springsteen to right-wing media darling Dr. Ben Carson.

Hopefully these SNAP success stories making headlines will push right-wing media to tone down the toxic and inaccurate rhetoric about the program and its recipients.

Image via Hubert Burda Media under a Creative Commons License