USA Today's Uninformed Campaign To Shame The Poor

A USA Today editorial is downplaying poverty and food insecurity in America, and using Fox News talking points to justify a push to cut vital and effective anti-poverty programs.

In June the Senate voted to reduce spending on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, by $4.5 billion. Conservatives in the House are pushing for deeper cuts to the program, despite the fact that food stamps reduced the poverty rate by 8 percent during the depths of the recession.

In championing those cuts, USA Today offered a shockingly uninformed dismissal of the problem of food insecurity -- a term researchers say is more accurate than hunger. Pointing to increased use of food stamps in recent years, the editors opined:

These numbers are not driven by a rise in hunger. Indeed they have come about at a time when Americans -- particularly those on the lower-income rungs -- are struggling with obesity.

This analysis is nonsense. As Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger told The New York Times: “Hunger and obesity are often flip sides to the same malnutrition coin.” The Food Research and Action Center explains: “food insecure and low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty.” Minnesota Public Radio further detailed the interaction between food insecurity and obesity in a January 27, 2012, report:

Recent research from the University of Minnesota finds parents who struggle to get enough food eat fewer fruits and vegetables and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than other parents. That is largely due to poor access, said Mary Story, a dietician in the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.

“What we know is that fruits and vegetables cost more, whole grains cost more,” Story said. “And many low-income people live in neighborhoods or communities that lack access to a supermarket.”

USA Today's apparent ignorance of the connection between obesity and food insecurity casts doubt on its call to “nudge the numbers back toward where they were in the mid-'90s.”

But their embrace of Fox News' bullying tactics underscores the pernicious aspect of the campaign to demonize and cut food stamps.

After detailing efforts over the past decade to expand SNAP eligibility, the editorial argued:

Adding to the growth, the Agriculture Department has begun advertising the program more aggressively, and it has removed many of its inconveniences (and its stigmas at the cash register) by replacing coupons with cards that look and function much like debit cards.

This type of poverty-shaming has been a constant drum beat on the right. In June, New York Post columnist and Fox News regular Michael Goodwin discussed increased SNAP enrollment and lamented: “The sense of shame is gone.” Goodwin's commentary echoed other Fox figures who have castigated SNAP beneficiaries for lacking an appropriate level of shame. 

Perhaps tomorrow USA Today will explain how easy it is to feed a family on a diet of rice and beans