Buried in the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget plan was an intriguing proposal: In effort to curtail the costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, President Donald Trump wants to replace half the money most families receive from SNAP with a box of nonperishable food items, including shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal.
The proposal for the box, called “America’s Harvest Box,” applies to household s receiving at least $90 a month in benefits, which covers more than 80 percent of SNAP recipients – more than 16 million households. Distribution of the boxes to recipient households would be left up to the states. As they do now, food stamp recipients would get their remaining monthly allotment on debit cards that they can use in grocery stores.
The concept was developed internally at the USDA. Officials estimate it would save the government more than $129 billion over 10 years. In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praised the box:
“USDA America’s Harvest Box is a bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families — and all of it is homegrown by American farmers and producers. It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program, and is responsible to the taxpayers.”
The nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine also endorsed the box, and further encouraged SNAP recipients to enroll in their Healthy Staples plan, which would add fresh fruits and vegetables to the box without the added cost of home delivery.
“It’s great to see the USDA recognize that SNAP is lacking basic nutritional requirements, which is exacerbating obesity, heart disease, and diabetes among the millions of Americans who rely on this critical program. America’s Harvest Box is a positive sign that the USDA is aware of the growing problem, and this is a good move to the extent it focuses on a healthier SNAP,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee. “Our Healthy Staples plan takes that idea to the next level by allowing participants to choose from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. Also, these foods can be provided at any store, without the home delivery component detailed in the president’s budget.”
Of course, the plan was met with immediate criticism from consumer and anti-hunger advocates. Kevin Concannon, who oversaw SNAP during the Obama administration, was downright dismissive of the proposal, saying, “I don’t know where this came from, but I suspect that the folks when they were drawing it up were also watching silent movies.”
However, while it’s debatable whether America’s Harvest Box would be a viable, cost-effective solution, the fact of the matter is that something has to be done about SNAP spending. The welfare state has bred such entitlement that people have actually tried to buy cars with food stamps. If that’s not proof the program needs to be completely overhauled, what is?
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