Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fox News Wonders Whether We Should Cancel Food Stamps Because 0.09% of Spending is Fraudulent

From The Washington Post 12/28/2016:

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.