A budget proposal released by President Donald Trump last week called for replacing part of federal food stamp spending with boxes of groceries to be delivered directly to participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The so-called U.S. Harvest Boxes would include canned and dried food like vegetables and pasta, and items like shelf-stable milk; about half of the individual food stamp allocation would be cut in favor of the delivered food. The average Pennsylvania SNAP participant gets $123.16 per month in food stamps. (The Minnesota average is $105.43. according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)
The idea for what should be called the U.S. Heartless Boxes is so ludicrous that it seems designed to be a distraction rather than an actual proposal. Given the initial outcry, it’s unlikely to gain much traction. It’s still worth pointing out just how wrong the idea is.
Trump and the Republican Party are supposedly against big government and have been quick to deride and ridicule attempts to intrude into people’s lives. Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy food initiative, for example, was called a move to a nanny state. The prospect of the government dictating half the food that low-income people eat isn’t just the nanny state — it’s totalitarianism.
What’s more surprising is how the program would immediately undercut retailers both big and small, and drive many of them out of business. Food stamps represent 10 percent of U.S. food purchases for the home. What happens when half of the $67 billion spent with food stamps gets eliminated? (Walmart, for one, is unlikely to take this lying down, which gives us hope this will get killed quickly.)
The idea that the government, and this is one in particular, would be able to create a faultless delivery system for boxes of food — whose shipping costs were not included in the projected overall savings — is laughable. But even if it did, the risks inherent in delivering food — theft, damage and the inability to deliver in certain rural areas or to people who are either homeless or don’t have stable addresses — are staggering.
If only there were a more efficient way to take advantage of current food distribution systems, and allow people to select and carry their own food home?
Oh, right. It’s called food stamps.
This food box idea takes away people’s agency to choose what they eat and reduces the chances that they will get fresh, healthy food instead of processed food products.
The sad thing is, it’s not even the worst idea to be floated. Republicans have routinely called for imposing work requirements for food stamps; Trump’s budget would impose them. Republicans have also tried to impose drug screening for SNAP participants and to restrict the use of food stamps for certain kinds of food — such as cookies, chips, seafood or steak.
The war on the poor is not a new one, and it’s unlikely to ever truly end. It’s too bad that one of the wealthiest countries on Earth is also the one that fights the hardest against the poor.
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Give him a box of nonperishable food, instead of letting him make his own choices, and he’ll lose his dignity for life.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER