A proposal made in President Donald Trump’s budget would eliminate half the benefits that food stamp recipients receive, implementing in place of those funds a program that would instead deliver food in pre-packaged boxes to the nation’s poor.
Called “America’s Harvest Box,” the program would transform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (sometimes called SNAP, or “food stamps”) into a “Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney explained.
Instead of fresh fruits and vegetables, the program would prioritize canned goods. The box "would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish," the budget document states.
The changes would affect close to 40 million Americans and would save the United States $130 billion in expenses, the White House proclaimed. But consumer watchdogs question whether such a program would actually save money and have further doubts about the government picking out food for millions of Americans. Even Blue Apron allows its customers to pick out what they want to eat, critics observed.
Hearing that the Trump Admin is selling this as the “Blue Apron-ing” of SNAP.— Chad Bolt (@chadderr) February 12, 2018
Um, no. https://t.co/FzgVRv8yw4
With Blue Apron, you get to pick your meals and decide when they come. And it gives you all the ingredients you need to complete it.— Bryce Covert (@brycecovert) February 12, 2018
The program “will be administratively costly, inefficient, stigmatizing, and prone to failure,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.
Indeed, issues such as allergies, bowel difficulties, and even simple preferences would invariably make the program a difficult sell to food stamp recipients, much less to state governments that would have to implement such an initiative.
The proposal is particularly puzzling given this administration’s propensity to oppose food programs that supposedly force individuals to have to make certain food choices. National school lunch standards that were promoted by former first lady Michelle Obama were rolled back last spring by the administration, who considered rules on what schools could serve to children too burdensome.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Trump administration tried to make huge changes to the SNAP program. In his first budget proposal, Trump wanted to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from food stamps, using work requirements and other eligibility rules to restrict many from being able to use the program. The budget couldn’t pass Congress.
That will likely be the outcome of this budget, which means the proposal, unless it’s made outside of the budget process, is likely dead on arrival. Still, budgets are moral documents — they give us an understanding of what the administration wants to prioritize, and what they aim to change, providing insights into their thinking and ethical standing.
This budget — including this proposal — is morally unsound. The SNAP program is largely successful the way it is, and claims of fraud are way overblown. Trump should trust Americans to buy the food that’s right for their families — and not implement programs that may wind up costing taxpayers more than they’re worth.