A new plan from the Trump administration could replace food stamps for good with something that his critics should have a hard time opposing: Actual food going to people who need it.
According to Fox Business, part of the president’s 2019 budget proposal will be a program called “America’s Harvest Box,” run by the Department of Agriculture.
“It would provide 16.4 million households, about 81% of current food stamp recipients, with boxes of non-perishable food items grown by U.S. farmers in place of some of their SNAP aid,” Fox Business reported, using the acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name for food stamps.
The reform would apply to households that receive more than $90 a month in food stamp benefits, according to Politico.
The plan would deal with one of the major criticisms of the SNAP program: the fact that recipients can spend their food stamps on whatever foods they choose.
We’ve heard the horror stories about lobster and filet mignon being purchased with SNAP credits, but those are rare. The most worrying thing may be the most popular item purchased with food stamps: soda.
While conservatives generally aren’t in favor of using government to regulate health outcomes in terms of what foodstuffs people buy, when those foodstuffs are being bought with government money — which is to say, our money — citizens have every right to demand that items that provide limited nutritive value while contributing to negative health externalities (which will likely also cost government money) aren’t covered under the program.
And then there are the abuses of the food stamp program, such as shop owners illegally buying the credits from recipients for cash and then using the credits to stock their stores.
America’s Harvest Box would aim to end, or at least curb, both of those abuses.
“Items that could be included in a government-issued food box are grains, peanut butter, canned meat, canned fruits and vegetables, juice and other shelf-stable products,” Fox Business reported.
“The government would decide what to include based on nutrition guidelines utilized for other, existing programs, such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.”
Estimates are that America’s Harvest Box could save the government $129.2 billion over the next decade if implemented, partially due to the fact that it could leverage its buying power for the 41 million individuals in SNAP as of November 2017, as opposed to those people buying individually.
Whether or not the America’s Harvest Box idea gains any traction remains to be seen. The White House’s budget suggestions are just that — suggestions. Spending bills, including the yearly budget, originate in Congress, which is often loath to cede its budget-making purview to the White House even after the budget proposal is submitted.
That being said, America’s Harvest Box is one of the most innovative proposals we’ve seen regarding entitlements in decades, probably since the sweeping welfare reforms of the 1990s. Not only does it save money, it solves many of the issues that have plagued the SNAP program in recent years.
And the best part — at least from the GOP’s perspective — is that it puts the Democrats in the unenviable position of arguing against fresh, healthy food and for a program rife with abuse. And argue they no doubt will, should America’s Harvest Box make it to the floor. Naturally, the media will take the Democrat side, as this preemptive New York Times strike shows. (Fair and balanced headline: “Trump’s ‘Harvest Box’ Isn’t Viable in SNAP Overhaul, Officials Say.”)
However, in a world of Amazon drones and Blue Apron dinners, one imagines technical hurdles will be far less daunting than opponents will make them out to be. Given that the American people have demanded changes in SNAP, which has morphed into one of the most bloated and abused programs in the federal firmament, America’s Harvest Box might just be the direction nutritional assistance is headed.
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