A bit over 44 million Americans participate in the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps. That's a higher number than in most years past, representing about 13.7 percent of the U.S. population, but it's down from the high of 47.6 million in 2013, 14.9 percent of the population that year.
What's incensing Fox News, though, is that 2016 saw a record-high level of fraud in the system, with $70 million wasted. The network hosted a discussion Tuesday morning with a simple conceit: Should the program therefore be ended?
Update: As it turns out, that figure itself doesn't appear to be accurate, with the USDA telling The Post's Erik Wemple that they aren't sure where it came from.
In December 2013, a poll conducted by United Technologies with the National Journal asked Americans whether they thought that changing the rules to limit food stamp availability should be approved, even if it kicked 4 million people off the support system. Two-thirds of Americans said that was acceptable. How many would accept booting all 44 million isn't clear.
But it's useful to consider the broader context of the question before we consider scrapping the program in its entirety.
For example, the amount of fraud Fox said was reported in the SNAP system is a tiny fraction of overall spending. The cost of providing nutritional assistance to those 44 million people (on average each month) is $70.8 billion. In other words, the amount of fraud is about 0.09 percent of all of the money spent. Visually, that looks like this.
There is a slice representing the fraud in that graphic. It's just not very big.
There's no question that fraud should be rooted out and eliminated, of course. There's also no question that the $70 million at issue could have gone to more useful purposes. But in the scale of government waste, that $70 million is peanuts.
In April, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, compiled a report looking at places where the government could save money. It found billions and billions in potential savings in a variety of agencies and programs. The chart below isolates solely the proposals that would save a specific amount of at least $1 billion — expressed in $70 million increments.
That's one report. Earlier this month, The Washington Post revealed that the Defense Department had deep-sixed recommendations that might save the agency up to $125 billion over the course of five years. “Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power,” our Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward wrote. “But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.” That's a potential savings of $25 billion a year — 357 times the amount of waste in the SNAP program.
Another example. On Wednesday, we reported about a long-running scam operated by Leonard Francis, a Navy contractor who, over the course of several years, defrauded the government to the tune of $35 million.
As of writing, Fox News has not questioned whether we should disband the Navy.