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Agriculture Department seeks correction from Fox News on food-stamp fraud report


The Agriculture Department is asking Fox News to correct a report from Tuesday morning’s edition of “Fox & Friends” alleging new heights for food-stamp fraud in the United States. Introducing a panel discussion on the topic, co-host Abby Huntsman said, “Food-stamp fraud is at an all-time high, and some of the worst offenders this year have included a state lawmaker and a millionaire. This year, it is estimated $70 million of taxpayer money was wasted on food-stamp fraud. So is it time to end the program altogether?”

Jeez, wonder where Fox News stands on food stamps?

A write-up of the segment repeats this allegation: “According to the USDA, $70 million of taxpayer money was wasted in 2016 due to food stamp fraud.”

According to the USDA, that’s false. “We are not quite sure where this came from,” a USDA spokesperson tells the Erik Wemple Blog. “We saw that there was as 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.” (Breitbart notes correctly that its recent story on food stamps didn’t address fraud). The program in question is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which assists millions “eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.”

The program’s role in helping needy people acquire food has made it a favorite target of Fox News over the years. “You can use EBT cards … down at the organic market in the East Village,” protested former Fox Newser Andrea Tantaros years ago, summing up the house ideology toward SNAP. “You can get organic salmon, wild salmon — it’s insanity.” A promo for one show sounded this theme: “Food stamp abusers, feeding on taxpayers. America’s poor are actually living the good life.” The network’s role in playing up food-stamp shenanigans was a favorite topic of former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.

And even though Fox News claims brand-new information on food-stamp fraud, the USDA insists that its most recent analysis is several years old. From 2009 to 2011, claims a USDA report, the rate of “trafficking” of SNAP benefits jumped from 1.0 percent to 1.3 percent — though that rate is down from almost 4 percent in the 1990s. “Trafficking” refers to transactions in which SNAP beneficiaries sell their benefits to retailers for cash, commonly at discounted rates; it is one form of food-stamp-related fraud.

Now here comes the mind-blowing part: Take that 1.3 percent trafficking rate from 2009 to 2011 and apply it to the 2016 SNAP budget of about $70 billion. It comes out to about $910 million, or more than 10 times the rate that Fox News claimed on its show. So even as it reported that food-stamp fraud had hit an all-time high, Fox News was actually reporting a preposterously low number for food-stamp fraud. Only a program as idiotic as “Fox & Friends” is capable of such feats.

Think back to 2012, when “Fox & Friends” depicted the Obama administration as presiding over a near-doubling of the unemployment rate — a nasty distortion accomplished by cherry-picking two distinct measures. The Erik Wemple Blog have asked Fox News for more information on the food-stamp report and await an answer. A Fox News spokesperson indicates that this matter will be addressed on tomorrow’s program.

This month, Fox News announced Huntsman’s move from correspondent to a co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend.” A press release quoted Huntsman as saying something that no sentient TV news person would ever voluntarily articulate: “I … am excited to officially join the ‘Fox & Friends’ family.” If so, she should be excited about independently vetting every story presented to her by her “Fox & Friends” colleagues, because more career-compromising embarrassments of this sort are part of the brand.

Updated to note that the Breitbart piece didn’t address food-stamp fraud.