Proposed SNAP Overhaul Could Benefit USDA’s Other Programs
The latest news out of Washington regarding the status of welfare recipients comes off as a tad strange. President Trump has proposed an alternative to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and E.B.T’s: it’s called America’s Harvest Box, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and would replace 81 percent of SNAP recipients with a pre-selected, pre-packed selection of staple grocery items. The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated it would save over $2 billion for the U.S. government annually, and sells the box as not just beneficial for those who need food assistance, but for American farmers who would be stocking the boxes.
The proposal has elicited a heavy yuck factor from both parties. Democratic Senator Stabenow and Republican Senator Roberts, both on the Senate Committee of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, have both denounced the proposal, and Stabenow has been quoted calling the plan “a distraction.” After budget director Mick Mulvaney commented on how the boxes were a “Blue-Apron like program,” lead investor and community entrepreneur Joseph Sanberg distanced himself from the comment and highlighted that the proposed plan would feature foods that are processed, the very opposite of fresh.
But before we cry out on the insensitive nature of downsizing SNAP, or the “Harvest Box” isn’t some evil-genius, dystopian creation devised from the imaginings of people with personal chefs. It has its roots in standard approaches to food pantries and food-assistance programs. Through The New York State Women, Infants, and Children’s Supplemental Food Program, the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council offers individualized food packages along with nutritional assistance. The New York State Department of Health’s HPNAP program lists guidelines for its selection of food given out to shelters and other Emergency Food Relief Organizations throughout the state.
Simply put, all Trump is doing is reinventing the wheel — one that was designed in 1939 by President Roosevelt as part of the New Deal to help relieve the burden of the Great Depression. The USDA was put in charge of the program and today, 69 percent of the USDA’s budget is spent subsidizing costs for hungry Americans. While the number of people receiving SNAP fluctuates, the monthly dollar amount is rising. It is easy to imagine SNAP taking up more and more of the USDA’s total expenditure, leaving less money for the other functions of the agency. This includes projects such as sustainable land management, programs to improve opportunities and infrastructure in rural America and different types of food assistance programs like the WIC and HPNAP program funding for states.
Regardless, changes in SNAP are more likely to come in the form adjusting the USDA’s budget, establishing strict work requirements and other subtle maneuvers felt longer by Americans in need that reflect more on our politics overall than one administration’s view of government assistance and the poor. And while some may consider the proposal heartless, it’s equally possible that this is the beginning looking for ways to preserve, not destroy, programs that benefit Americans in need.