Donald Trump’s White House administration has announced a plan that would change the way those on food stamps receive their assistance each month. Through this new process, people would receive a box, Blue Apron style, containing shelf-stable items and meat. The goal? Saving money and improving the nutritional value of the program. However, the proposal does have its detractors who see trouble ahead.
Here we’ll take a look at how the food box program would work and what consumer advocates and food retailers have to say.
What comes in the box?
Rather than receiving all of their food stamp money, households would get a box of food called USDA America’s Harvest Box. The contents: Shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned fruits and vegetables, and canned meat, poultry, or fish. All of the items would be selected by the federal government, rather than the people eating it.
Next: Where will the food come from?
Is it nutritious?
The food in the box would be homegrown by American farmers and producers, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] participants currently receive.”
The program ensures recipients receive the vegetables, beans, and fruit they need to stay healthy, according to the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Next: Who would receive the food boxes?
Who is eligible?
Households currently receiving $90 or more per month in food stamps would receive the boxes of food. This translates to 38 million people, or around 80% of those in the program.
Currently, SNAP provides assistance to 44 million low-income individuals, two-thirds of whom are children, elderly, or adults with disabilities. About 14% of Americans receive food stamps, though in some states, the number is closer to 20%.
Next: What about food stamps?
Will people no longer receive food stamps?
The box of food would be valued at about half of the SNAP recipient’s monthly benefit. Recipients would receive the remainder of their benefits on electronic benefit cards, as before. (In 2004, the Bush administration replaced the paper “food stamp” coupons with electronic benefits and debit cards. At that time, the program became known as SNAP.)
Next: Why is Trump proposing this change?
How much money will the program save?
The new program would be “responsible to taxpayers,” according to Agriculture Secretary Perdue. Advocates say the proposal would save the federal government nearly $130 billion over 10 years.
Other benefits include a reduction in the potential for fraud and improvement in the nutritional value of the program, the administration said. Consumer advocates, however, questioned how the government could save that much money through purchasing and distributing the food.
Next: How will boxes get to people?
How will the boxes arrive?
The states would be provided with flexibility in administrating the program, according to the Trump administration. In other words, each state would handle the logistics. States could choose to distribute the boxes through existing infrastructure, partnerships, or directly to people through delivery services. The budget would include $2.5 billion for 10 years of delivery of the food boxes.
Next: Critics express concerns.
What do critics have to say?
Consumer advocates expressed concern that families would not know what food they would get in advance nor have any choice regarding what they receive. (Also questioned was how families with nut allergies would handle the jars of peanut butter.) Another critic was the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group representing retailers. “Based on our decades of experience in the program, it would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings,” said Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer for the institute.
As for the states’ responsibility for distributing the food, the $2.5 billion allocated for delivery wouldn’t likely be enough, said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “I think it’s a huge unfunded mandate,” Dean said.
Next: Will the food box plan be implemented?
Will the new program see the light of day?
It’s still unclear what sort of support Congress would provide for the new initiative. The federal food program has seen bipartisan support there for decades. However, in recent years, Paul Ryan and other House Republicans have spoken out in favor of overhauling the program to give more control to states.
Dean said the food box plan may just be a distraction from other issues at play. “I don’t think there’s any real support for their box plan,” she said. “And I worry that it’s a distraction from the budget’s proposal to cut SNAP by some 30%. That’s the real battle. The dangers are these other proposals to cut benefits. But all anyone is talking about today are the boxes.”
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