I read a troubling statistic the other day that I couldn’t shake so I did some digging.
Only about one-third of senior citizens who are eligible for SNAP benefits (food stamps) are using the benefit. I wondered why. Don’t they know they’re eligible? Are they daunted by the application process they believe they’ll have to go through? Are they ashamed?
It seems all these factors come into play but the biggest one is that seniors report feeling ashamed of using these benefits. After spending a lifetime supporting themselves, it’s simply too demeaning to accept help with buying food. And to prop up those feelings of guilt and shame, we have Fox News.
Last year, Fox News aired The Great Food Stamp Binge in an effort to convince us that America’s SNAP recipients are taking advantage of the system. True to the Fox brand, Bret Baier cited one of their Fox News Polls (I’m really not kidding) as proof, stating that “57% of people feel food stamp recipients are taking advantage of the system and not truly in need.” To further prove their facts (overkill considering that scientific poll of how their viewers felt) they featured a California beach bum who bragged about receiving $200 per month in food stamps. (Fox doesn’t like to use the term SNAP benefits because it lacks the shame they feel should be attached to using benefit programs. They’re working hard on changing that).
Baier followed Beach Bum to his specialty grocery where he used his SNAP benefit to buy lobster. They went on to label this guy “the new face of food stamps” and spent most of remainder of this hard-hitting journalistic feat tailing Beach Bum to the surf, a barbecue with friends, and playing music with his band. (There was no shortage of camera focus on a scantily clad woman dancing in the background, a famous Fox News staple). They searched and searched for his shame but could find none in this stoner. Aha! This proved the other point they had set out to make. That people on food stamps not only were lazy, they weren’t even ashamed about being lazy.
Using this beach bum to represent SNAP recipients is as ridiculous as using Fox News Reports as representations of journalism.
Actually, the new face of food stamp recipients happens to be workers of full time jobs who are not paid adequately to feed their families. The new face also includes all those people who have lost jobs since our economic meltdown and remain un- or under- employed. They include our elderly on fixed social security incomes, many of whom are also raising grandchildren.
Their story wasn’t meant to enlighten anyone. It was pure agitprop, (now if that word’s not as handy as a pocket in a shirt…) aimed at conservative followers eager for fodder to defend their position that cutting benefit programs is good for the poor, good for our country, and really doesn’t hurt anyone.
One unfortunate effect this kind of propaganda leaves is that it keeps our SNAP eligible elderly from applying for benefits they need.
Fifty percent of Fox News viewers are over the age of 68. They are the ones watching this dribble and also the ones hit the hardest by food insecurity. Skipping meals might be just fine for many of us but for elderly people who tend to eat smaller meals and take multiple medications, it can be disastrous. In addition to skipping meals, they are missing doses of medication and keeping their homes inadequately heated or cooled to make ends meet.
Let’s talk about who should really be feeling shame for taking from America. Verizon, GE, and Boeing all paid zero, zilch, not-a-dime in income taxes between 2008 and 2011 even though they made billions of dollars in profits. SHAME ON THEM!
In addition to these tax evaders, (or avoiders if evader sounds too harsh) there are all those wealthy corporations who pay their employees so poorly, they must rely on SNAP benefits to feed their families. While McDonalds provides advice to their employees on where to sign up for government benefits, their CEO gets paid over $10 million per year. Walmart behaves pretty much the same with low pay and benefit avoidance while their CEO is paid over $20 million. When News Corp, owner of Fox News, avoided paying income taxes on their multi-billion dollar corporation, owner Rupert Murdoch was billed a tax code genius. SHAME ON THEM!
Here’s the deal, seniors. About feeling ashamed over food stamps; stop it! About Fox News; turn it off and keep it off! If you’re having trouble making ends meet, seek out the benefits that are available to you. If you need these benefits, you deserve these benefits. It’s as simple as that.
As for how to apply for benefits, AARP has a Public Benefits Guide for each state that can be accessed here.