Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: Allen West says more Americans receive food aid than work in the private sector

Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, a staunchly conservative Republican who represented a Florida district for one term, recently sent a tweet that resurrected one of the themes used by Mitt Romney and others during the 2012 presidential campaign — the idea that there are makers and takers in America.

Here's what West tweeted: "More Americans receive food aid than work in private sector. 'Fundamental transformation?' Nope, nation destruction."

The tweet linked to an article in the conservative website CNSNews that provided data to support his claim. The CNSNews article cited a report by the inspector general of the Agriculture Department, which operates most federal food-assistance programs, as well as employment data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The inspector general's report said that Food and Nutrition Service "estimates that a total of 101 million people currently participate in at least one of its programs."

The CNSNews article compared this figure to BLS data showing that there were "97,180,000 full-time private-sector workers in 2012."

However, we see a number of problems with this comparison, and how West framed it.

We looked at the BLS figures for April 2013 so we could match them to the most recent available figures for participation in food-assistance programs, which are from that month.

According to BLS, 113.6 million Americans had a private-sector job during April 2013. That's more than the 101 million figure for food assistance.

As for the food assistance number, it's likely lower than the 101 million figure West cited.

That's because an individual who qualifies for one program may also qualify for another. It would be odd if at least some fraction of children qualifying for a free or reduced-price school breakfast wouldn't also qualify for a free or reduced-price school lunch, and if some of these same children didn't also qualify for food stamps at home.

In fact, studying overlap was actually the whole purpose of the inspector general's report West cited. It concluded that "the potential for overlap and duplication exists" among the department's nutrition programs.

But participation in all of these categories is counted separately. No steps were taken to avoid double- or triple-counting people who receive more than one type of food assistance when the 101 million figure was calculated, an approach confirmed to PolitiFact by Agriculture Department spokeswoman Jessica Milteer. "Many participants in our programs are eligible to take advantage of more than one nutrition assistance program," she said.

There's one more problem with this claim: The comparison West is making isn't especially enlightening.

The universe of people who could potentially receive food aid is the entire U.S. population. But the universe of people who could potentially hold a private-sector job consists only of those 16 years old and older.

Our ruling

West tweeted that "more Americans receive food aid than work in (the) private sector."

However, 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. We rate the claim False.

This fact-check has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

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