Politico Plays “Sky-is-Falling” Tune on Food Stamps

Eyeglasses with newspaper and coffee cup

On Thursday, Politico reported that “U.S. households [are] still going hungry,” claiming that, “Despite the explosion in food stamp enrollment, the percentage of American households experiencing food shortages remains stubbornly high.” They base their conclusions on a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study on “food insecurity.”

While what USDA dubs “food insecurity” may be higher today than it was prior to the recession, what does this actually mean? As Heritage Foundation experts Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield show in their 2011 report on poverty in America, the vast majority of “food insecure” households don’t go hungry. From Rector and Sheffield:

92.5 percent of poor households assert that they always had “enough food to eat” during the previous four months, although 26 percent of these did not always have the foods that they would have preferred. Some 6 percent of poor households state that they “sometimes” did not have enough food, and 1.5 percent say they “often” did not have enough food.

Furthermore:

During 2009, less than one poor household in five experienced even a single instance of “reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns” due to a lack of financial resources. Strikingly, only 4 percent of poor children experienced even a single instance of “reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns” due to a lack of financial resources.

Perhaps more egregiously, the Politico article favorably views the massive growth in the food stamps program that has taken place in recent years, and mocks House Republicans, The Heritage Foundation, and Fox News for not being supportive of continuing this trend.

What the article fails to note is that from 2000 to 2011, 57% of the growth in the food stamp spending was not directly related to the recession. Policy changes over the years have also made it easier for more people to get and stay on the program. And how the money is spent by recipients is largely unknown, since no oversight is administered by the USDA.

The article closes with a heart-rending tale of how harsh House Republicans are. Stacy Dean, a top nutrition analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based liberal non-profit, claims that “the House Republican leadership [food stamp] proposal would inevitably mean more severe hardship across America.”

The facts aren’t on her side. The proposal aims to promote self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults without dependents and tighten loopholes that have increased eligibility. Dean’s statement also ignores that the House Republican plan is aiming to spend less compared to a baseline of expected spending over a five-year period. In other words, these aren’t real cuts; they are reductions compared to projected spending increases in the future. And, those reductions are taking place over a five-year period, by which point hopefully many Americans won’t “need” food stamps any longer.

Once again, the media is spinning the facts on food stamps and hunger. Reality doesn’t live up to the hype.