Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Fact-checking the debate over food stamps

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and other members protested Republican efforts to strip food stamp provisions from a farm bill that passed the House on July 11, 2013.
Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and other members protested Republican efforts to strip food stamp provisions from a farm bill that passed the House on July 11, 2013.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the program most Americans know by its former name, food stamps — took center stage this week as the House of Representatives held a contentious vote on funding the program.

Since the early 1970s, Congress has taken up funding for food stamps in the same bill as provisions affecting farmers. (Both are run by the Agriculture Department.)  But in June, the House failed to pass a bill structured the traditional way, amid concerns by fiscal conservatives that food stamp spending needs to be cut back.

Regrouping from the bill’s floor defeat, the House GOP leadership set a new vote for July 11, 2013, on a bill that only took up the provisions affecting farmers without addressing food stamps at all, even though food stamps accounted for the vast majority of spending in the original bill.

The House passed the stripped-down bill, 216-208. Representatives of the House must now hammer out a compromise with the Senate, which had already passed a bill that included both farm and food stamp provisions.

But prior to passage in the House, many Democratic lawmakers expressed anger, portraying GOP efforts to sideline food stamp funding as mean-spirited and harmful to poor Americans.

For instance, Corrine Brown, D-Fla., compared it to the secretly recorded comments of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. "Mitt Romney was right," she said on the floor. "You do not care about the 47 percent. Shame on you."

House Republicans objected to her characterization, but a claim that had bubbled up among conservatives on social media just days before did resurrect the makers-vs.-takers theme Romney (and Brown) alluded to.

Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., sent a tweet three days before the House vote that said, "More Americans receive food aid than work in private sector. ‘Fundamental transformation?’ Nope, nation destruction."

When we checked his math, we found a number of problems.

The data West used appears to have undercounted the number of people with a private-sector job and overcounted the number of people receiving food aid. In addition, the comparison isn’t really apples to apples. So we rated the claim False.