Millions of people around America receive monthly cash benefits from the government. A new plan is proposing to cut some of those cash benefits and replace them with a box of food. Proponents of the proposition put forward by the Trump administration say it will save the government millions of dollars and provide healthier, more nutritious food to those who are receiving cash benefits.
Those critiquing the plan are unsure of how much money the government will save, the logistics of the food distribution, and the lack of choice presented to the people receiving the food box.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney described the plan as akin to the Blue Apron program but for food stamp recipients. Those affected are only people who currently receive more than $90 in food stamps every month. Across America this represents about 38 million people, which is a large number to supply boxes of food to.
The program has been given the name “Harvest Box.” “USDA America’s 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,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a statement. “It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program, and is responsible to the taxpayers.”
The plan is part of Trump’s 2019 budget blueprint but the program immediately raised concern among consumer advocates and food retailers. These people are scared that such a change will cause a lot of disruption for the 80% of the people who are in this bracket of the government’s current food stamp program.
The USDA America’s Harvest Box would contain items such as shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. These would comprise half of the total value of the food stamps and the remainder would be given to the recipients as electronic benefit cards – as is the current program. Those concerned with the program are asking how the government plans to distribute the boxes and how they will pay for this. The government claims the Harvest Box will save the state $130 million over the next 10 years, but it seems that such a sum is too large in the eyes of the critics.
There have been questions raised about where and how the government will source the food, and how families will have access to it. There is also the concern about how families will choose what they want, and questions raised about the claimed increase in nutritional value.
“It’s a risky scheme that threatens families’ ability to put food on the table,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at an institution called Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
It should perhaps be put to the current users of the program as to whether they’d prefer the current cash benefits or the proposed Harvest Box.