On The Sean Hannity Show radio program that aired on January 3, 2012, Hannity referenced a Republican talking-point meme that made the social networking rounds some time last year. You can hear this clip of Hannity’s show at the Media Matter’s Website, where he said:
“Apparently there is a sign, National Park Service, from the U.S. Department of the Interior, and it says, ‘please do not feed the animals.’ Stated reason: ‘The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.”
The following newspaper clip summing up this worn Republican ideology has been circulating the social networks for the past six months or so:
The text reads as follows:
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to “Please Do Not Feed the Animals.”
Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.
This ends today’s lesson.
I went to the National Park Service Website to see what their stated reason was for politely asking us not to feed the animals. This is what I found:
DON’T FEED OR APPROACH WILDLIFE
Feeding or approaching wildlife can cause problems for both humans and wildlife. Wild animals that learn to associate humans with food often become dependent on human-related food and garbage. They lose their wildness, may become unhealthy and often threaten people and property. They may be cute but feeding them is bad for you and the animals.
Many animals have specialized diets and the wrong foods can negatively affect their health. Artificial food sources can cause increased wildlife populations that are damaging to the environment and that natural available food supplies can’t support. Unnatural foods can also make them sick.
Feeding causes wild animals to lose their natural fear of humans. Wildlife can become an easy target, or the bold advances of an animal may be misinterpreted as an “attack” on a person.
You risk injury when you do not keep a respectful distance from wild animals. Wild animals can misinterpret your actions. They don’t know where the food stops and your fingers begin. The animal is blamed when people complain of being bitten or “attacked.”
Wild animals often cause property damage when they are fed human food. Animals will chew or bite into packs and coolers and even enter vehicles and buildings when they learn that these can be sources for food. Foxes, squirrels, and bears have entered or damaged tents to get at food stored improperly.
Feeding wild animals changes their behavior, often with catastrophic results. Animals are often injured or killed when they spend more time around vehicles at roads and parking areas. They are also easier for predators to catch in these open areas.
Odd. The National Park Service’s “stated reason for the policy” gave many reasons for prohibiting the feeding of animals, but didn’t once imply that doing so would cause them to “not learn to take care of themselves.” When the NPS states, “Wild animals that learn to associate humans with food often become dependent on human-related food and garbage,” they mean in the sense that birds won’t migrate at the right time with an artificial food supply; other fed animals won’t properly contribute to the delicately balanced ecology, and natural animal territories will become artificially altered – those are the true dangers of animal dependency on being fed.
So that kinda’ kills the ‘ironic’ spin Mr. Fleming and Mr. Hannity were going for with one government agency warning against the dangers of feeding animals while another agency “is proud to be” feeding people.
Still, they must be pretty upset at all that money that goes toward feeding the poor. The U.S. government spent approximately 76 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP or food stamp program) in 2011. In that same year, the U.S. government collected 2.3 trillion dollars in taxes. So SNAP accounted for approximately 3% of U.S. tax dollars.
That means if you made $100,000 and paid 17% of it in federal taxes, approximately $512 of that payment would be going toward feeding hungry people, or 0.5% of the $100K, or $1.40 per day. For most taxpayers, the cost is less than a dollar per day.
But it’s not about that, according to Hannity. It’s about dependency. Sean obviously believes all these people on food stamps – children, the disabled, the elderly –need to feel the bite of hunger to get motivated to feed themselves, and perhaps fight to the death in the metaphorical employment cage-match, where there’s only one job available for every six people applying for it.
In September 2012, Phoenix, AZ Mayor Greg Stanton went on a one-week food stamp budget for SNAP Awareness Week. On Day 4 he wrote in his Facebook journal about the experience:
“I’m surviving on an apple and handful of peanuts, and the coffee I took to the office until dinner. I’m tired, and it’s hard to focus. I can’t go buy a sandwich because that would be cheating – even the dollar menu at Taco Bell is cheating. You can’t use SNAP benefits at any restaurants, fast food or otherwise. I’m facing a long, hungry day and an even longer night getting dinner on the table, which requires making EVERYTHING from scratch on this budget. It’s only for a week, so I’ve got a decent attitude. If I were doing this with no end in sight, I probably wouldn’t be so pleasant.”
But according to the likes of Hannity, $4-$5/day is too lavish to really motivate all the lazy people on food stamps to help themselves.
Let’s look at some food stamp facts. According to the Food Research and Action Center:
- Over half of all food stamp recipients are children
- Another quarter are elderly or disabled persons
- Of the remainder, close to half are working or participating in program work requirements
- Of the 5 percent of recipients neither working nor subject to a work requirement, half are caring for a young child
Hannity is not the first Republican voice to vomit this worn talking point about ‘government dependency,’ and he certainly won’t be the last (or the most offensive: remember when South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer equated the hazards of helping poor people with feeding stray animals “because they breed”? See CBS News’ coverage of that here).
The “feed the animals” meme is a ridiculous analogy anyway; animals in the wild regularly die of starvation, particularly young animals. Is the Republican Party cold-hearted enough to want to see that happen to their fellow Americans? American children? I sometimes get the feeling that it’s becoming so hard for some to justify low tax rates for the wealthy, their only recourse is to convince a hungry nation that keeping its citizens from starving is a bad thing for government to do.
Personally, I think the Good Book says it best:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy….” (Deuteronomy 15:11)