Trump proposes to replace portion of food stamps with food boxes

Trump proposes to replace portion of food stamps with food boxes
President Donald Trump's recently released budget plan proposes cutting out some of the cash payments to food stamp recipients and replacing them with food boxes. Grocery retailers are against the idea, according to the Food Marketing Institute. (Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Trump administration proposed a plan that would shake-up how the U.S. food stamp program operates. The president’s recently released budget plan proposes cutting out some of the cash payments to food stamp recipients and replacing them with food boxes, Politico reported.

The plan would reform the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, that provided support to nearly 21 million households — more than 42 million people — during the 2017 fiscal year.

How would the plan work?

Households that receive more than $90 a month in cash would get approximately half of their benefits in the form of a Harvest Box filled with 100 percent American-grown food. The plan is expected to save taxpayers a projected $129 billion over the next decade.

The 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,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

It would be up to the individual states to determine how it would distribute the boxes to recipients.

What would be in the Harvest Box?

The package, which would be shipped directly to recipients, would contain items “such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish,” according to the budget proposal.

The box would not contain fresh food items because they spoil too quickly.

Households receiving benefits would still be able to buy fresh food items using cash on their SNAP EBT cards.

How would it save money?

The USDA said it would be able to purchase food at wholesale prices, about half the cost of retail.

“It lowers the cost to us because we can buy prices at wholesale, whereas they have to buy it at retail,” White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Monday. “It also makes sure that they’re getting nutritious food. So we’re pretty excited about that. That’s a tremendous cost savings.”

It would operate much like the food box program for seniors, which it’s modeled after.

But the proposal would eliminate the seniors plan and roll it into the Harvest Box program.

The USDA also said the plan would help reduce EBT fraud by reducing the amount of cash that’s transferred to recipients.

How much money does the average household receive from SNAP?

The average household benefit in 2017 was $255.84 per month. The average per person benefit was $127.73 per month during the same period, according to the USDA.

What do those against the idea say?

Kevin Concannon, who served as under secretary at the USDA from 2009-2017, said the plan reminded him of when people lined up and waited for local officials to pass out food and other welfare benefits.

“Holy mackerel,” Concannon said. “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.”

Grocery retailers are also against the idea, according to the Food Marketing Institute, which represents Walmart, Kroger, and others in the industry.

“Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account, but based on our decades of experience in the program, it would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings,” the Food Marketing Institute said in a statement. “As the private partners with the government ensuring efficient redemption of SNAP benefits, retailers are looking to the administration to reduce red tape and regulations, not increase them with proposals such as this one.”

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