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

The foolish farce surrounding ‘food-stamp fraud’

It’s widely assumed that congressional Republicans, working with a Republican White House, will go after social-insurance programs with a vengeance next year, and the most economically vulnerable Americans are likely to face new hardships. GOP allies know that the public might be more tolerant of drastic cuts if the public distrusts the public programs themselves.

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.
And with that in mind, Fox News ran a curious report this week.
Food stamp fraud is at an all-time high, with cases this year including a state lawmaker and even a millionaire.

According to the USDA, $70 million of taxpayer money was wasted in 2016 due to food stamp fraud.
On Twitter, Fox News asked, “Food stamp fraud at all-time high: Is it time to end the program?”

Taking the report at face value, the question is bizarre. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, generally known as food stamps, is a nearly $71 billion program. If $70 million helps provide food for people who shouldn’t receive assistance, that’s 0.09% of the overall budget. In other words, according to Fox’s report, 99.91% of the money Washington spends on food stamps is spent appropriately. That’s an amazingly successful program.

What’s more, if we continue to take Fox’s report at face value, since when do we “end” public programs in reaction to tiny amounts of fraud? If someone found 0.09% of misspent money in the Pentagon budget, wouldn’t it be silly to say we should scrap the Defense Department?

But here’s the best part: there’s no reason at all to take Fox’s report at face value.

As Ari Melber noted on last night’s show, Fox sourced the Agriculture Department, but the Agriculture Department hasn’t put out any new information about fraud. When we called the agency yesterday, department officials said they didn’t know where Fox came up with the figure.

What’s more, the claim that food-stamp fraud is “at an all-time high” also appears to be incorrect, and the evidence suggests fraud in the system is far less common than it was in years past.

So we’re left with a Fox report that got every relevant detail wrong. As for why the network made this mistake, one can only speculate, but don’t be too surprised if Republicans try to slash food assistance to low-income families next year, citing this Fox report to bolster their plans.

food insecurity, Food Stamps and Fox News

The foolish farce surrounding 'food-stamp fraud'