The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program that used to be known as food stamps and is still often referred to that way, allows earning a low income to purchase food with an Electronic Benefit card (EBT).
There are restrictions on what can be purchased using SNAP benefits. No alcohol or tobacco products can be bought. No pet food, paper goods or cleaning supplies. Prepared foods that are ready to eat can't be purchased either. Other than that, the benefits can be used for anything the USDA determines is food, including junk food and luxury items (like steak or lobster).
In the 2019 budget proposal unveiled earlier this week, the Trump administration says it wants anyone who receives at least $90 a month in benefits to get about half of their benefits delivered to them in the form of a box, according to NPR.
The items in the box would be pre-determined, would contain no fresh fruits or vegetables, and would include "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables."
White House compares plan to 'Blue Apron'
The Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said it's a "Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash," according to Fortune.
The Blue Apron comparison falls flat and it's the epitome of a phrase that we hear all too often lately: "tone deaf." There is absolutely nothing similar about Blue Apron and the proposed box of canned goods and shelf-stable milk.
Blue Apron is a meal delivery service, not a food delivery service. Those who choose to subscribe to Blue Apron can pick the meals that appeal to them, and all of the ingredients (most of them fresh) are delivered in perfectly measured portions, along with easy-to-follow directions, ready to throw together to make an entire meal.
In comparison, what Mulvaney calls "America's Harvest Box" provides no choices. There's no indication that families will be able to choose the foods they want in the box based on dietary choices, allergy restrictions, or personal preference. Will vegetarian households receive canned chicken? Will families who can't allow dairy products in the house because a child will go into anaphylactic shock be required to accept shelf-stable milk?
In the day or so since the budget proposal was released many, many questions have been brought up that have, so far, gone unanswered. Here are several that I have (in addition to the ones I asked above), or that I've seen raised in various articles or on social media.
- What's the cost of delivering these boxes?
- Who will get the contracts for the delivery? (Maybe giving living wage jobs to people who are currently on SNAP be a requirement to get the contract.)
- If boxes need to be picked up, what happens when a family doesn't have transportation to get there?
- What will become of grocery stores and markets in low-income areas that rely on SNAP purchases to stay afloat?
- Who will get the contracts to produce these foods?
- Some SNAP recipients are homeless. How will they get their boxes and how will they store food when they get it? How would they cook foods that must be cooked?
- What happens to people who live in a home or apartment but have their electricity or gas turned off, often because of landlord issues. What happens when the only food they have is food they're unable to cook?
- How is it that the political party that was opposed to the Obama administration adding healthier, fresh foods to school lunches — saying the government shouldn't tell people what they can eat — now wants to tell low-income families what they must eat?
The list of questions could go on and on, and the questions I'm asking here don't begin to address the topic of human dignity.
The outcry over this proposal is loud, but it could be louder. Congress must vote on this, and before they do, we have the opportunity to contact our representatives in the House and the Senate and let them know how we'd like them to vote. I'm on it. Are you?