The Trump administration has proposed a change to the current food stamp program in the US, replacing benefits with a “Harvest Box” that would include items like milk, pasta, and meat, but not fresh fruit or vegetables.
America’s Supplemental Food And Nutrition Program (or SNAP) currently provides benefits to around 42 million low-income, retired, or disabled Americans. People who are eligible for SNAP benefits received a specialized debit card, which can be spent on unprepared food. On average, the typical SNAP recipient gets $126 in benefits per person per month, or about $1.40 per meal, according to the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities.
Under the Trump administration’s new proposal, anyone receiving over $90 a month would receive half their benefits as a box of pre-packed food, all “100 percent American-grown and produced.” In a statement accompanying the proposal, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called it “a bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families.” He also claimed that the program would maintain “the same level of food value as SNAP participants currently receive.”
The boxes are part of a proposal to cut SNAP spending by over $200 billion over the next ten years, and the USDA says that the boxes alone would save $129.2 billion of that amount. But critics of the government believe that the program would be more cumbersome to implement than simply giving recipients benefits to spend. The Trump administration did not clarify how the boxes would be distributed, describing it as a “flexible solution for states to handle.” Many worry that the cost of transportation will be downloaded onto states.
Many also believe that the program will make it more difficult for the low-income recipients to eat. Citing the fact that the boxes are meant to be prepared in full kitchens, health policy professor Sara Abiola asked VOX, “What happens if your kitchen is not functional? It’s idealistic to think that folks are going to be able to cook a ‘healthy’ meal.” Many who receive SNAP benefits are homeless or have precarious housing, making it difficult for them to prepare food like pasta.
The administration did not address whether there would be accommodations made for people with allergies or dietary restrictions, or whether there would be instructions on how to cook the specific foods inside of the box. Many see the new plan as a punishment for people on benefits, a way to make their lives difficult without affording any real benefits. In a statement to NPR, Douglas Greenway, the president of the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, said, “The budget seems to assume that participating in SNAP is a character flaw.”
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