The Trump administration rolled out a new proposal on Monday to replace a portion of food stamp recipients’ benefits with a direct shipment of food.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney likened it to the meal kit company Blue Apron, which delivers food directly to the homes of those enrolled in the program.
“I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright,” Mulvaney told reporters Monday. “You actually receive the food instead of receive the cash.”
“It lowers the cost to us because we can buy prices at wholesale, whereas (beneficiaries) have to buy it at retail,” he added. “It also makes sure they’re getting nutritious food. So we’re pretty excited about that.”
Currently, those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program receive money in the form of an ATM-like card, which they can use to buy approved food items at certain retailers.
The proposed America’s Harvest Box program would not eliminate that system, but reduce the amount of money enrollees receive by half in lieu of the food shipments.
The boxes would include items like shelf-stable milk, juice, pasta, cereal, peanut butter, canned meat and canned fruit and vegetables.
SNAP recipients could then use their cash benefits (EBT cards) to purchase perishable or other food items they want.
The Department of Agriculture estimates the new program would save $129 billion over a ten year period.
The Washington Examiner reported that the government spent $64 billion in SNAP benefits in 2017.
“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 participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program, and is responsible to the taxpayers.”
Multiple news outlets — including Politico, The Daily Beast, and Newsweek — ran misleading headlines representing that the Trump administration wanted to completely replace cash payments with food shipments.
Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, characterized the proposal as “a risky scheme that threatens families’ ability to put food on the table.”
The White House argued that the government already provides direct food aid to many households through programs such as free and reduced-price school lunches and a food delivery program for senior citizens. Further, the program gives the states great latitude in how they distribute the food, including using other existing partnerships or commercial delivery services, CNBC reported.
Due to the improving economy, the number of people enrolled in the food stamp program dropped by 2 million during Trump’s first year in office to approximately 42 million people.
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