An electronic benefit card for Georgia's food stamp program sits on the counter of Shinholster Grocery & Meat in Irwinton, Ga., Nov. 21, 2013.
Bryan Meltz/The New York Times/Redux

Claims about ‘food-stamp fraud’ completely fall apart

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/28/16, 9:27 PM ET

The “food stamp fraud” farce

The Nation’s National Affairs Correspondent Joan Walsh talks to Ari Melber about why conservative media is misinforming the white working class about food stamps, and turning them against a benefit they need.
As Ari Melber noted on the show last week, Fox News aired a strange report, telling its viewers that “food-stamp fraud” has reached “an all-time high.” Citing evidence from the Department of Agriculture, Fox said fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cost taxpayers $70 million in 2016.

“Is it time to end the program?” Fox asked, rhetorically.

It didn’t take long before literally every detail of the report was discredited. Food-stamp fraud is not at an all-time high; the Department of Agriculture has not released any new data on this; there’s no evidence that puts the price tag of fraud in the system at $70 million; and ending a social-insurance program over this is absurd.

The Department of Agriculture demanded a retraction. As The Hill noted, Fox obliged.
Fox News has retracted a Tuesday story that claimed “an all-time high” for food stamp fraud. “We reported that back in 2016 $70 [billion] were wasted on food stamp fraud,” Fox News contributor Abby Huntsman said on Friday’s “Fox and Friends.”

“That was actually incorrect. The latest information from 2009 to 2011 shows the fraud at 1.3 percent, which is approximately $853 million for each of those three years. Nationally food stamp trafficking is on the decline. So sorry about that mistake.”
That’s the appropriate resolution, of course. We all make mistakes – I’ve had to publish some corrections of my own over the years – and it’s encouraging this was straightened out fairly quickly.

I’m still curious, though, about how and why this bogus report aired in the first place.

“We are not quite sure where this came from,” a USDA spokesperson told the Washington Post. “We saw that there was a story on Breitbart. We have not issued a report on this recently. There is no new rate that we’ve published. So we’re not quite sure why they’re so interested in stirring this up.”

I tracked down that Breitbart News report, assuming it was the source of Fox News’ error, but it wasn’t. In fact, the Breitbart piece was accurate: it complained about the number of Americans receiving food assistance and the cost of the program – it’s a conservative website – but it made no reference to fraud or the $70 million figure.

It’s easier to understand the motivation behind the mistake – congressional Republicans are poised to go after programs that benefit low-income families – but I have no idea where Fox came up with that $70 million figure. It appears to have been made up out of whole cloth.

food insecurity, Food Stamps and Fox News

Claims about 'food-stamp fraud' completely fall apart