Fact Check: Chris Cuomo Says Americans Are ‘Literally Starving’ Without $300 Unemployment Benefits
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 15: Chris Cuomo of CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time attends the WarnerMedia Upfront 2019 arrivals on the red carpet at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 15, 2019 in New York City. 602140 (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

April’s dismal employment report drives home the fact that an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits effectively pays workers to stay at home, making it more profitable for them to remain out of work than to pursue a job. In response, a number of Republican governors have canceled the unemployment bonuses in their states, while the Biden administration and its defenders have concocted dubious-sounding stories about how these extra unemployment benefits are necessary in the midst of a hiring boom.

CNN host Chris Cuomo elevated the UI bonus to the status of life-saving necessity on his program this week.

“People are literally starving” even with the additional government boost, he said on Monday’s “Cuomo Prime Time”:

People are literally starving in this country, still. Look at the numbers. They are starving in a way we’ve never seen since we’ve been alive. That’s the impact of $300 a week. It can keep you out of that.

“That money matters for Americans, OK?” said the youngest Cuomo. “It’s a reflection of need, and also a reflection of how few people are paid well”—previewing the elitist argument that mom-and-pop stores which cannot afford to pay their employees $15 an hour deserve to go out of business. But let’s take one argument at a time.

Is this true?

In a word, no: $300 a week in additional unemployment benefits isn’t keeping anyone from starvation.

America is the leading food exporter in the world. Food banks and soup kitchens reach into every community. And Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) income guidelines allow a family of four to earn up to $34,068 a year and still be eligible for food stamps — and the extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits doesn’t count toward that limit. Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” saw to it that those food stamps are increased by an extra 15% until September.

So few Americans die of hunger every year that the government essentially stopped tracking it. The World in Data records that 0.69 Americans per 100,000 die of malnutrition. This is less from lack of access to food than mental health issues, abandonment, or abuse.

Food is so abundant in America that we throw away more food than any nation in the world. “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40 percent of the food supply,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Wasted food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills and represents nourishment that could have helped feed families in need.”

“Each year, the food we waste costs the North American economy US$ 278 billion and could have fed 260 million people,” said Armando Yáñez Sandoval of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

That is not to say everything is well. The COVID-19 global pandemic brought insecurity to millions of families’ kitchens — and every other area of life. The GDP shrunk at an annualized rate of 33% during the second quarter of 2020 due to the pandemic and its associated lockdowns. Extra unemployment benefits, originally of $600 a week, were meant to combat the fact that the government stopped an economic boom and told workers to “stay home.”

But the April jobs report shows that the bonuses have become counterproductive. In March, there were a record-breaking 8.1 million open jobs available, yet millions went unfulfilled because the government had essentially given them a better job.

That’s bad, because employment teaches skills, meets needs, serves others, builds wealth, increases national security, and helps a person use his or her God-given talents to support a family. Before the 2020 election, our national leaders used to talk about the benefits of work openly and proudly.

“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say everything will be okay,” said presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2020.

“Too many people today can’t do that — and it’s got to change.”

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