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Trump’s plan to slash food stamps is half-baked

MarkoNOVKOV/iStock/Thinkstock father spoon-feeding child
HELPING HAND: Forty percent of food stamp recipients are children.
The president wants to cut food stamps and give people a box filled with nonperishable food each month.

President Donald Trump wants to slash food stamps for the poor and instead give them a box filled with government-purchased, nonperishable food items, delivered each month to their door.

The Trump proposal, which USDA has dubbed America’s Harvest Box, would replace about half of food stamp benefits for households who receive $90 or more in food stamps per month — or 81% of households participating in what is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The amount of food received per household would be scaled to the overall size of the household’s SNAP allotment.

USDA would provide foods such as shelf-stable milk; juice; grains; ready-to-eat cereals; pasta; peanut butter; beans; canned meat, poultry or fish; and canned fruits and vegetables to SNAP households.

For the past 40 years, USDA has distributed benefits as either paper coupons or on electronic benefit transfer cards, allowing recipients to use them as cash on foods of their choice and at their own grocery stores.

Big brother
This proposed plan would put the U.S. government directly in charge of deciding what goes on the dinner plates of more than 16 million low-income households. Critics say the program would be inefficient and costly, and would end up reducing benefits for low-income families and communities. We couldn’t agree more.

“It lowers the cost to us because we can buy [at wholesale prices], whereas they have to buy it at retail. It also makes sure they’re getting nutritious food, so we’re pretty excited about that,” explains White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. He likens America’s Harvest Boxes to that of the high-end meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron.

But Mulvaney fails to note a couple of big differences between the two. The average cost of the food in a Blue Apron box is $10 per serving, whereas the cost per serving of food in an America’s Harvest Box is about $1.37. Blue Apron customers also choose what foods they want to eat.

The administration’s argument that the government can purchase the food at a lower cost fails to factor in the logistics of the proposed program. Many antihunger advocates and analysts are skeptical of the food boxes. They say it’s unclear how USDA would deliver the boxes and how much that would cost.

The plan also ignores the fact that young children can be picky eaters who might not like the canned beans the government chose to send to their parents that month, and who can’t understand that they have no other choice but to eat them.

Equally unclear is whether USDA would give the same foods to an elderly person with diabetes and a family with two or three young children. It ignores doctor-recommended diets and food allergies. It also doesn’t address the fact that the box could contain food that some SNAP recipients don’t even know how to make.

The plan assumes that everyone lives in a secure home where they can receive packages that aren’t going to be stolen while they are at work and their kids are in school.

Trump is making a big push to expand work requirements in the nation’s social safety net, calling on his administration to propose tougher rules for America’s most vulnerable population to benefit from welfare programs.

What Trump fails to note is that 40% of food stamp recipients are children and another 26% are elderly or disabled. So, two-thirds of food stamp recipients can’t work. Most adults who receive food stamps are parents who are already working but don’t make enough money to put food on the table and pay the bills.

Food stamps have been a win-win for farmers. They encourage legislators from urban areas who have few or no farmers in their districts to support the farm bill, which includes SNAP legislation. And SNAP recipients use their electronic benefit cards to purchase food at their local grocery stores, which helps farmers.

If Trump’s plan to slash food stamps is signed into law, the result would likely be fewer benefits for those who need them the most.

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