A Fox News report on the so-called "unintended consequences" of Seattle, Washington's municipal minimum wage increase included the unsubstantiated claim that better pay is encouraging workers to work less so that they stay in poverty and continue receiving government benefits. This report fits the network's anti-minimum wage, poor-shaming narrative, but ignores the many benefits of increasing the minimum wage.
In June 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved legislation increasing the city's minimum wage to $11 per hour for most employees on April 1, 2015 and to $15 per hour over the course of a 3-to-7-year phase-in period. The decision was praised by many groups like the National Employment Law Project (NELP) as a necessary step toward alleviating inequality and lifting low-wage workers out of poverty.
On the July 22 editions of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Happening Now, and Special Report, correspondent Dan Springer reported that Seattle is facing the "unintended consequences" of increasing its minimum wage. The worst of these consequences, he claims, is that some employees "make too much money to stay on certain welfare programs" and are requesting fewer hours because "the raises [are] pushing them over the income threshold and out of welfare programs like subsidized food, child care, and rent." In all three segments, Springer's evidence for this alleged poverty trap was an interview with Seattle-based radio host Jason Rantz, not with actual recipients who rely on government assistance.
Other so-called "consequences" of the increased minimum wage included restaurants raising prices and requesting patrons not to tip their wait staff. Springer also cited a comic book store in San Francisco (not Seattle) which blames that city's increased minimum wage for its lack of profitability:
The core of Fox's claim that many low-income Americans would rather stay on anti-poverty relief programs than work fits the network's long-standing campaign to attack and shame low-income workers. It is also a variation of the discredited "Welfare Cliff" argument frequently pushed by the network.
In addition, the claim that increased wages are boosting restaurant prices, and thereby hurting tipped workers, is blatantly misleading and plays into Fox's misinformation campaign against the minimum wage. For example, Ivar's Salmon House, a Seattle icon, increased its menu prices and no longer accepts tips. But, according to NPR, the restaurant decided to institute the full $15 minimum wage three years ahead of schedule for its employees and now automatically prices gratuity into the bill, which thus far has not hurt sales or workers. Several restaurants, including one in the District of Columbia, have responded to calls for an increased minimum wage by unilaterally raising their own pay and informing customers that it is no longer necessary to tip wait staff.
Conservative media have claimed for more than a year that Seattle's minimum wage would hurt the city's restaurants and small businesses, but a March 17 report by The Seattle Times revealed little anxiety about the pay increase. In fact, according to data from the Seattle Office of Economic and Financial Analysis, the city witnessed a small spike in restaurant permit requests in the month before wage increases were set to go into effect but otherwise requests have remained relatively flat. Finally, according to a June 4 report by Common Dreams, several of the most outspoken local opponents of Seattle's minimum wage increase have actually opened new restaurants and increased staff hiring since the ordinance went into effect.
From the May 21 edition of MSNBC's Politics Nation:
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Fox News failed to mention that 2,700 children will be booted off Arizona's welfare program in the wake of extreme restrictions pushed through by Republicans in the state.
Arizona legislators voted on May 18 to drastically restrict the state's welfare program, capping the lifetime limit for recipients to one year. As the AP reported, the new rule would be "the shortest window" of benefits in the nation, and "As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families - including more than 2,700 children - from the state's federally funded welfare program on July 1, 2016."
Yet no mention of the thousands of children and families that stand to lose access to the program was made during a May 20 segment on the vote during Fox News' Fox & Friends. During an interview with Arizona state Senator Kelli Ward (R), co-host Steve Doocy instead focused on state budgetary problems, asking "why was this bill important?" Going on to suggest that the bill was produced to address the frustrations about "the way welfare works in the country," Doocy gave an uncritical platform for Sen. Ward to claim that the measures were simply "necessary" despite the consequences:
But the measure will not only hurt those who need such programs most, it may also increase costs to the state in the long run. As Liz Schott, a welfare policy analyst, explained to the AP: "Long-term welfare recipients are often the most vulnerable, suffering from mental and physical disabilities, poor job histories and little education ... But without welfare, they'll likely show up in other ways that will cost taxpayers, from emergency rooms to shelters to the criminal justice system."
Right-wing media have a plan to solve the national crisis of poverty in America -- and it's all about "personal responsibility."
Roughly 45 million Americans live in poverty, 1 in 7 received food stamps just last year, and 20 percent of children under the age of 18 were impoverished in 2013. Politicians and media figures have offered many possible solutions to help low-income Americans break free from this systemic cycle of inequality, including expanding the social safety net and educational opportunities for all.
But over the years, conservative media have offered their own strategies. Watch as Media Matters looks back at the five easy steps they've proposed to help Americans living paycheck to paycheck find that "richness of spirit":
Major newspapers in Wisconsin have omitted key facts from their coverage of proposed state legislation to drug test people who receive certain government benefits -- including that such testing is extremely costly and that studies have found that people on assistance programs use drugs at lower rates than the general population.
Lawmakers in the Wisconsin State Assembly approved legislation on May 13 that would require drug screening for people who collect welfare checks and restrict what items food stamps can be spent on. The measures include three bills: one to drug tes tapplicants for unemployment benefits, another to drug test recipients of income support and food assistance, and a third to restrict Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) purchases to "healthy foods" -- determined by the government -- and ban users from buying "crab, lobster, shrimp or any other shellfish." According to the Huffington Post, the legislation is similar to a proposal Gov. Scott Walker included in his state budget.
In their coverage of the proposed legislation, The Wisconsin State Journal, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Green Bay Press Gazette all omitted key context about how similar drug testing requirements enacted in other states turned out to be expensive and were strongly opposed by experts in the scientific, medical, and substance abuse fields.
According to a February 26 report from ThinkProgress that analyzed seven states with similar programs, states that have implemented such measures "are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users." Although states have "collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort," the report found that the tests have turned up relatively littleevidence of substance abuse: "The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent."
And according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "science and medical experts overwhelming oppose the drug testing of welfare recipients." Pointing to a statement from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, the ACLU explained that laws requiring drug testing for welfare recipients only serve to reinforce the stigma around needing such benefits. The list of organizations opposed is long, and includes the following:
American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
Fox News' campaign of misinformation surrounding food assistance programs may be continuing to influence GOP legislation, as lawmakers in both Missouri and Kansas consider measures addressing "fake problems" within their state's benefit programs.
Republican lawmakers in Kansas recently introduced legislation restricting where recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as "welfare") can spend their money and what they can buy. The bill would limit the daily spending allowance to $25 and ban recipients from using benefits at psychics and tattoo parlors. Another measure, introduced by the House GOP in Missouri, will similarly limit how recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly knowns as "food stamps") can use their benefits, prohibiting them from buying "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks."
As Dana Milbank explained in an April 8 op-ed for The Washington Post, legislation of this nature is "about demeaning public-benefit recipients" and has little to do with public policy. "Few can afford filet mignon on a less-than-$7/day food-stamp allotment" wrote Milbank, "they're more likely to be buying chuck steak or canned tuna."
Fox News has spent years denigrating food assistance programs and recipients, with its campaign coming to a head in August 2013 when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who had allegedly taken advantage of food stamps to purchase lobster and other luxury foods while refusing to work for a living. Labeling Greenslate as "the new face of food stamps," the network used the man as an example of fraud and waste within food assistance programs, despite the rate of trafficking in the program being just over 1 percent.
Fox's influence over Republican policymaking has previously been felt in legislation about food assistance programs. In the months after their special aired, the network distributed copies of it to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in anticipation of an upcoming vote to cut up to $40 billion of SNAP funding over ten years. The proposal would have threatened nearly 4 million Americans with greater food insecurity.
Now, Fox's misinformation is again threatening to create real hardships for those who depend on food assistance programs to make ends meet. In an April 7 article for the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift wrote that the only evidence to back up claims of fraud used to justify food stamp and welfare restrictions in Kansas and Missouri is the "widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance."
The Washington Post's Roberto Ferdman also traced the Missouri bill back to its roots in Fox's campaign to demonize recipients of food assistance. In an April 3 post for Wonkblog, Ferdman wrote that the measures "fit a longtime conservative suspicion that poor people use food stamps to purchase luxury items" but that the myths perpetuated by Fox News "should be viewed as distortions of reality."
From the March 25 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Fox News championed a campaign to encourage healthy school nutrition in an interview with New York Giants player Victor Cruz, sharply contrasting with the network's long history of attacking similar efforts as government fiat.
On the March 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Victor Cruz promoted Fuel Up to Play 60, the "nation's largest in-school wellness program." The initiative, a partnership between the National Football League and the National Dairy Council, aims to encourage support for school nutrition by creating "a system for increasing breakfast participation by delivering reimbursable meals to classrooms for student consumption before or during class," pointing to research that suggests offering "breakfast free to all children improve[s] student achievement, diets and behavior."
Cruz's campaign received a warm welcome by the Fox & Friends co-hosts who donned Cruz jerseys while interviewing him during National School Breakfast Week. Co-host Steve Doocy lauded Cruz for working to ensure "every kid in America is eating a healthy breakfast." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Cruz's campaign, saying, "I know how important you understand nutrition is for kids. You do so much for kids, and this Play 60 campaign that you're running with here is so important. Tell us about why breakfast really counts for kids":
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News pushed three food stamp myths in under five minutes, while hyping new statistics showing that 46.5 million Americans now receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) -- or food stamp -- benefits. Fox ignored the fact that raising the minimum wage would reduce the number of SNAP recipients, that experts agree marriage would not solve problems of poverty, that increasing numbers of college students are food insecure and need this government aid, and that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits.
Right-wing media have championed photo ID requirements on EBT cards for Maine residents who receive food stamp benefits, claiming high levels of waste and fraud. But in reality, Maine's SNAP program is not rampant with fraud and such photo identification measures have proved inefficient in other states.
From the October 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Conservative media's lengthy campaign to demonize government programs by accusing low-income Americans of using benefits to buy marijuana has culminated in legislation being passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives this week.
Two bills linking government assistance for impoverished families to the legal purchase of marijuana are making their way through the Republican-controlled House. The Preserving Welfare For Needs Not Weed Act, proposed by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and passed by the House yesterday, aims to prohibit the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards containing cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in stores selling marijuana (At this time, only two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the sale of the drug for recreational use). A second bill, the No Welfare For Weed Act, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), extends even further -- it aims to ban the purchase of marijuana with SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps.
These bills come on the heels of a concerted effort by Fox News and conservative blogs like National Review Online (NRO) to accuse low-income Americans of using government assistance to purchase recreational marijuana. One month after Colorado legalized the sale of pot, NRO alleged "welfare beneficiaries withdrew thousands of dollars in public-assistance cash from ATMs at weed shops" in the state, a report echoed by Fox & Friends co-host Eric Bolling, who asked, "Are food stamps now going to pot?":
BOLLING: Forty-seven million people are on food stamps nationwide. In Colorado, more than 500,000 are getting food stamps every month. Meanwhile, 348 shops are set up in Colorado to sell pot in the state. And food stamp cards have reportedly been used at pot shops, ATMs, at least 64 times in the short time weed has been legal in Colorado. So are food stamps now going to pot?
In 64 specific times, people used an EBT card to take out cash, presumably to buy pot.
Conservative media's accusation that impoverished families use food stamps and government benefits to buy marijuana, one they've continued to push for months, was echoed by House Republicans justifying their current proposals.
Presenting his bill on September 16, Reichert declared, "We are seeing new abuses of these benefits. In these states, a person can walk into one of the newly opened pot shops and use their welfare benefit card to pay for pot ... This isn't an idle concern. Report examining welfare transactions in Colorado revealed over $5,000 in welfare benefits were accessed in stores selling marijuana in the first month such stores were open."
The link between TANF benefits and pot purchases has yet to be established. In NRO's original report, the blog admitted it could not conclude that any TANF money has been used specifically for the purchase of marijuana, stating, "Some of these establishments sell groceries as well as pot, so there is no way to know exactly how much welfare money was spent on marijuana."
Notably, despite the House bill suggesting otherwise, food stamp recipients are only allowed to use benefits to purchase approved food items and are barred from purchasing alcohol, tobacco, and non-food items. The USDA makes clear that SNAP benefits can't be used to withdraw cash from ATMs (emphasis original):
SNAP benefits can never be withdrawn as cash. Many States allow clients to use a single EBT card to access SNAP as well as cash benefit programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In most States, cash benefits from other programs can be accessed through ATMs.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed downplayed the seriousness of food insecurity in the United States, claiming that government research on the topic "isn't about hunger" and dismissing the millions of Americans who faced uncertain access to food last year.
On September 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report on household food security in the United States, finding that 17.5 million households in the country were food insecure in 2013, meaning that they had "limited or uncertain" access to "nutritionally adequate and safe food."
In response to the USDA report, The Wall Street Journal published a September 3 opinion piece by James Bovard attacking government focus on food insecurity as a measurement of widespread hunger in the United States. Bovard suggested thatmembers of food-insecure households are not legitimately hungry because "widespread hunger" has been "debunked" by another USDA report that found children in low-income households consume more calories on average than those in higher-income households. Bovard cited the higher consumption of calories by children in low-income households as evidence of a "paradoxical relationship between food stamps and food insecurity" and demanded more transparency on what food stamp benefits are being spent on.
But by denying the legitimacy of measuring food insecurity, Bovard erased food insecurity's pervasive impact across the United States. Although hunger and food insecurity are in fact separate issues, as Bovard pointed out, the USDA underscores that they are still "related." According to the USDA, "Food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited access to food, while hunger is an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity." The USDA began to distinguish between food insecurity and hunger in the department's research due to a "lack of consistent meaning of the word" hunger.
Citing higher calorie consumption among children in low-income households as evidence that debunks child hunger is also misleading. As the Food Research and Action Center points out, food insecure and low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity, due to "[l]imited resources and lack of access to healthy, affordable foods," which are primary factors in those living in poverty consuming higher-calorie foods. The center says that healthy food is often more expensive and less available than energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.
Fox News host Keith Ablow continued his attacks on First Lady Michelle Obama's weight, suggesting the first lady is a hypocrite on nutrition standards because photographs he claims to have seen prove, in Ablow's mind, that Obama has "struggled with her own weight" while in the White House.
Ablow was widely criticized after he dismissed the first lady's school nutrition efforts on the August 12 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, because he determined "she needs to drop a few" pounds. His comments engendered a widespread backlash, including from his own Fox colleagues. Ablow went on to defend his comments the next day to Politico, saying he was "not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America" and "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
On the August 21 edition of Outnumbered, Ablow doubled down on his offensive comments, citing unspecified "images online" as proof of Michelle Obama's personal hypocrisy on fitness:
ABLOW: Well, listen, first, let's provide some context. The context was to remind people the draconian standards set by the first lady in her school lunch program, such that children are throwing their school lunches away. They're inedible. They won't eat them. And what I was reacting to was the hypocrisy. Let me phrase it slightly differently. For someone who has struggled with her own weight, which I think she would agree with -who has struggled so many of us have -- for someone like that to say we're going to set draconian standards and dial everything so far down thatit's inedible.
FAULKNER: How do you know she struggled with her weight?
ABLOW: Well, okay, because I know from the images online that she has struggled with her weight or chosen -- or chosen to be much heavier than at other points in the administration. Maybe she's chosen it. You're saying how do I know she's struggled. Maybe she didn't struggle. Maybe she chose to be a larger woman for some --