WaPo’s Twisted Take on Poor People Eating

Mark Lester in 'Oliver'

Exploiting the “can I have some more” loophole.

Sometimes corporate media just come out and tell you what their priorities are. Take a Washington Post story by Reid Wilson (3/26/14) headlined “States Use Farm Bill Loophole to Stem Food Stamp Cuts.”

The “loophole” the headline refers to is a provision in food stamp law that gives slightly higher benefits to people who receive state subsidies for heating bills. The law was formerly written so that people who received as little as one dollar in heating aid were eligible for what is known as “heat and eat” aid, and some were giving just that much to some of their needy citizens to qualify them.

The Republican-led House, apparently driven by the conviction that poor people have too much to eat, insisted on making it harder to get these supplementary food stamps, and so the law was changed so that recipients had to receive at least $20 a year in heating aid to qualify. And governors in eight states said they would comply with the law by raising their heating subsidies to that amount.

This completely logical and predictable response to a legislative change is what the Washington Post describes as a “loophole”–and what it quotes Republican House Speaker John Boehner as calling “this cheating and this fraud.”

The Post makes clear what it sees as the important point here: The story’s lead speaks of the “loophole…potentially wiping out billions of dollars in savings Congress agreed to last month,” while the last sentence concludes, “If all of the states that operate the heat-and-eat program take advantage of the loophole, all $8.5 billion in cuts would disappear.”

That $8.5 billion in savings is a 10-year figure. Bear in mind that US government spending over the next 10 years is projected to be almost $47 trillion, so $8.5 billion amounts to about 0.02 percent–or two ten-thousandths–of federal outlays. Naturally, it’s a much larger proportion of hungry families’ food budget.

The Post‘s spin on this story is a little like describing Oliver Twist as the story of a conniving orphan scheming to bust the poorhouse budget by demanding seconds of gruel.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.