Once again, Fox News has leapt to flog something as wasteful spending without bothering to find out what they're talking about -- something they've done many times before. Today on Fox & Friends, the co-hosts eagerly hyped highlights of Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) annual "Wastebook," which purports to show examples of "wasteful and low-priority government spending." One of their targets was $765,000 spent on what the co-hosts called "pancakes for yuppies":
STUART VARNEY (guest): Do you want a list of how they're blowing your dough? Let me rip right into it. How about $113,000 for video game preservation? $765,000 for pancakes for yuppies in Washington, DC.
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Hold it right there.
ALISYN CAMEROTA (guest host): Hold it right there.
VARNEY: I don't know about --
DOOCY: Wait, wait, wait. Wouldn't yuppies prefer like a crepe rather than a pancake?
CAMEROTA: What are pancakes for yuppies? We don't even know.
VARNEY: I don't know.
DOOCY: Three-quarters of a million dollars.
CAMEROTA: That's a lot of pancakes.
The co-hosts really make it sound as though the government spent "three-quarters of a million dollars" on handing out "a lot of pancakes" to "yuppies" -- which, indeed, would be outrageous.
Of course, that's not actually true. It doesn't take more than a quick Google search to figure out that the money was spent as an investment in a business -- in an IHOP, that is.
The "yuppie" term comes from Coburn's report, which actually got the term from a Washington Examiner op-ed (making this story an excellent example of how the right-wing media feeds talking points to politicians, who in turn feed them back to the right-wing media). While the government built the IHOP to develop an "underserved community," Coburn claimed that the neighborhood is not "underserved" but is "popular":
An International House of Pancakes (IHOP) franchise was built with financial assistance courtesy of Uncle Sam. It was intended to help an "underserved community." The federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corporatioin. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS),--$500,000 of the $765,000 grant was used as an equity injection in DC Pancakes LLC for a 19% ownership interest. The remaining funds went to training costs for new employees, and other consultants
The new IHOP is not located in an underserved community but a popular Washington D.C. neighborhood. The neighborhood is Columbia Heights, which has become a local shopping hot spot for some and "one of Washington's more desirable neighborhoods." Other businesses in the area include Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, and Starbucks.
In fact, while Coburn is correct that those stores were recently built in the neighborhood, he is wrong that Columbia Heights is not "underserved." There are multiple low-income housing units within blocks of the IHOP at 14th and Irving Streets NW. Columbia Heights Village, which is Section 8 housing, is located two blocks away from the IHOP. A few blocks farther away, at 1343 Clifton Street NW, the non-profit housing organization Manna recently opened a low-income housing complex, Cardozo Court Condominiums. The units are only available to people making "less than 60% of the area's median income," according to local blog New Columbia Heights. As a recent Washington City Paper post attacking Coburn's characterization of Columbia Heights pointed out:
[I]f you spend some time at the IHOP, it's clear that it's one of the few restaurants that serves the area's working class residents--people who, despite Coburn's assertions, do still live in Columbia Heights. Just last month, hundreds of low income residents lined up overnight on 14th Street for a shot at 10 open apartments and 100 spots on a waiting list for subsidized housing in the Hubbard Place apartments.
While there were some issues with the grant -- as the City Paper post points out, there were problems related to "directing subsidies intended for local businesses to a franchise of a national chain" -- it's dishonest to characterize this money as "pancakes for yuppies." It would indeed be wasteful to hand out $765,000 of pancakes to affluent young professionals; unfortunately, Fox & Friends gave their viewers the impression the government really did just that.