Press Ignores Record Number of Food Stamp Households, But Frequently Cites 'Cuts' in Farm Bill
A search at Google News on "households food stamps record" done at 9 p.m. ET (not in quotes, sorted by date, with duplicates and similar items) returned three items. Two are at the Daily Caller (here and here); and the other is at Reason.com. Program statistics for March, the latest month available, show that a record 23.12 million households -- one in every five in the U.S. -- received food stamp benefits. At 47.73 million, the total number of persons receiving benefits was only 65,000 below the record set in December. In 2008, average participation was less than 29 million.
That search result shows, despite the fact that records are supposed to be news, that the establishment press is completely uninterested in communicating the fact that the food stamp program continues to grow, though very slowly, even as the economy supposedly recovers. There is one number that the press has been citing frequently, namely the number of people who might be removed from the food stamp rolls if language attempting to limit the program to people who are truly in need remains in the otherwise bloated disaster known as the farm bill.
Without the context of the total number of recipients, the number looks scary. If given the full historical context, most people would probably be asking why the proposed legislation doesn't go further.
By contrast, a Google News search on "cuts food stamps" (same parameters as above) returned 270 items -- in the past 24 hours.
With their ubiquitous placement in publications throughout the nation, reports from the Associated Press dominate the results obtained. The latest AP report by Mary Clare Jabonick (pictured above) this evening at least compares the dollar amount of "cuts" (really reductions in projected spending increases) to the total cost of the program. But despite burning through over 750 words, she failed to tell readers how many total Americans are receiving the handout (bolds are mine):
RURAL LAWMAKERS PUSH FOR FARM BILL VOTES IN HOUSE
Farm-state lawmakers are scrambling to win bipartisan support for a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill on the House floor this week.
The legislation would cut $2 billion a year from food stamps while raising subsidies for several crops. Though it has support from rural lawmakers across the political spectrum, it is unclear whether Republican leaders will be able to gather the votes they need to pass the bill.
Many Republicans are seeking deeper cuts in the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program and say they'll vote against the measure. They're backed by conservative groups who are lobbying aggressively against it.
Democratic support is equally shaky. Liberals are rallying against the measure because they say the food stamp cuts will take as many as 2 million recipients off the rolls. The White House has threatened a veto, saying more money should be cut from farm subsidies and less from food stamps.
The 2 million removed from the rolls represents 4.2% of all recipients. The $2 billion "cut" is 2.5% of the total annual cost Jalonick cited.
Given just two examples of many -- first, the fact that many states waived asset ownership and other similar tests which should never have been waived in the first place using the recession as an excuse, and second, that many college students around the nation who have no business being on the program are using it -- no one can seriously believe that there aren't two million people on food stamps who really shouldn't be receiving them.
In 2009, the asset test elimination enabled one couple in Ohio with over $80,000 in savings and a paid-off $300,000 home to receive monthly benefits of over $500. As far as I can tell, Ohio has not restored the asset test, so one must assume that similar instances are occurring throughout the Buckeye State and any other state in the nation which has similarly relaxed its standards.
In 2011 in Michigan, where "under former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, attending college alone qualified people for food assistance," Republican Governor Rick Snyder removed an estimated 30,000 college students from the food stamp rolls by insisting that assets considered in determining eligibility for new applicants. Projecting Michigan's result on the rest of the nation, assuming that states making up half of its population are just as overgenerous, would mean that at least 450,000 more student recipients could be removed from the rolls without anyone going hungry. The fact that Snyder concentrated on assets alone means he could have -- and arguably should have -- gone further.
Other publications are doing a worse job than the AP's Jalonick.
At an MSNBC item, Ned Resnikoff's headline blares "House debates $20.5 billion cuts to food stamps." That's $20.5 billion over 10 years, but Resnikoff never informs readers of that salient fact, leaving them, based on other information in the article, to believe that it's either a one-year or five-year reduction.
The MSNBC article also warns that "as many as 210,000 children could lose free school meals." That's because in most if not almost all cases, their households are already receiving food stamps. Cutting off the free school lunches to families already receiving food stamps eliminates obvious duplication, and should lead to zero suffering.
At the Atlantic, at least Chin Jou eventually put the $20.5 billion in "cuts" in a 10-year context. But her contention that "unprecedented cuts to food assistance" would cause Americans to have "less money for quality food," causing "more obesity, more sickness, and more overall cost" is absolutely pathetic. If you doubt me, look up the USDA's own meal plans on a "thrifty" budget.
Adults can eat just fine on less than $6 a day, as Colorado couple Ari and Jennifer Armstrong demonstrated back in 2007 (based on benefit levels in place at that time), and as Donny Ferguson, Texas Congressman Steve Stockman' agriculture policy adviser, demonstrated last week. Both the Armstrongs and Ferguson limited themselves to the average net benefit ($3.57 per day then, $4.50 now), not the program's current roughly $6 per day benefit before income- and asset-related reductions.
Of course, the manufactured furor is designed to shout out rational discussion about food choices and eliminatig waste and duplication. The press is shedding very little light, and in some cases, especially now with President Obama's promised veto, adding some additonal heat.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.