Last week the Trump administration unveiled new proposed cuts to the food stamp program that currently assists low-income families. The proposal is included in the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2019, which also includes billions in cuts to Medicaid, federal housing subsidies, and health insurance. Still awaiting approval from Congress, the plan includes boxes of food pitched as a “Blue Apron-type program” that would save the government money and supposedly provide people with more nutritious food than they currently get with food stamps.
Currently, benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Aid Program (SNAP) are loaded onto a card, and recipients can decide for themselves what to purchase. Under the new plan, the government would do much of the deciding. More than eighty percent of SNAP recipients get at least $90 a month in benefits. Under this new proposal, half of their benefits would be replaced by a box of sustenance selected by the government. The program is quaintly titled “America’s Harvest Box” like some kind of oatmeal brand your grandmother would make for you.
The so-called Harvest Box would contain “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.” These boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables. The proposal fails to address how dietary preferences and allergies will be addressed. Nor does it specify how these packages are to be delivered to recipients and how that would be funded. How will the government oversee quality control of the supply chain of these boxes?
The program immediately brings to mind our highly inefficient foreign food aid programs. Agency efforts at improving our foreign food aid are uncoordinated and highly fragmented as noted by the U.S. Government Accountability office. Why then would we propose implementing a similar program of shipping food products to our own citizens?
The USDA says that state governments will be able to deliver this food at a much cheaper cost than SNAP recipients currently pay for food at retail stores. And the new changes are said to reduce the total cost of the SNAP program by $129 billion over the next ten years. Changes to the SNAP program, according to the Trump administration’s proposal (titled “An American Budget”) will reduce the SNAP budget by $213 billion over those years, cutting the program by almost 30 percent. “Enrollment in SNAP remains stubbornly high,” the budget proposal states.
Is the ultimate goal of these changes to make assistance programs so insulting that people would rather go without than receive bland staple items?
The proposal also mentions the benefit for reducing electronic benefit transfer fraud. Once again, Republicans are always obsessed with the notion that all recipients of aid are looking to take advantage of the system. The party has a long history of stigmatizing the poor.
As if being poor isn’t hard and shameful enough, I can think of few things more insulting and humiliating than effectively telling parents they lack adequate awareness to shop for their children’s nutritional needs so the government has to do it for them. The proposal is disgraceful and ultimately fails to appreciate the needs of underprivileged communities. It treats poverty as a character flaw, a sign the recipient is incapable of making decisions for himself or herself.
The ultimate goal of these social safety net programs should be to provide basic rights of nourishment and shelter to our citizens as an empowering gesture—not through a bureaucratic, big government, father-like complex. Bobbi Dempsey sums it up in a New York Times opinion piece: “President Trump’s new plan to limit and control what low-income families can eat is short on both compassion and common sense.”