USDA Proposal Suggests a Harvest Box to Partially Replace Food Stamps
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published an idea to lower the cost and abuse of food stamps in the United States. In a proposal compiled by the USDA, this program would replace half the money given to some Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients with an “America’s Harvest Food Box.” Currently, about 81% of households receiving SNAP benefits are given $90 or more per month. This numbers about 38 million people living in more than 16 million households across the United States. These households would receive half their current allocated money and an American Harvest box. The box would contain food grown and produced in the United States, and would be shelf stable for an extended amount of time.
The American Harvest Food Box
The American Harvest Food Box would contain staple, nutritious foods. This includes peanut butter, shelf-stable milk, juice, cereal grains, beans, canned meat, poultry, or fish, and canned fruits or vegetables. Each state would be in charge of distributing the boxes to their members, whether by existing venues or through commercial means. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney described the transportation similar to Blue Apron, a small company designed to send boxes of fresh, locally sourced food to subscribers. However, American Harvest Food Boxes would not contain any fresh foods.
Critics of the proposal state that diabetic individuals and those with nut allergies may suffer under the new program. The government may not be able to release the content of the boxes until it physically arrives, thus creating uncertainty in households about what to purchase with the money. Additionally, those with dairy or nut allergies may not be able to utilize some ingredients in the box. The USDA has so far not addressed these concerns in their proposal, although since all the food would be shelf stable, contamination would not be the major concern.
The Agricultural proposal alleges that direct wholesale purchases by the government skips retail prices, allowing $129.2 billion in savings over the next 10 years. Currently, the government spends on average $1.37 per meal. The Trump Administration’s budget proposal asks SNAP to be cut more than $213 billion over the next decade, possibly by utilizing both the Department of Agriculture’s proposal as well as reducing fraud throughout the process, an argument that the USDA proposal mentions but does not account for in their proposal.
The Difficulties & Change
Many SNAP recipients do not have a reliable form of transportation, such as a car. While food stamps can be managed remotely through online banking and food stamp “debit cards,” the boxes would need to be physically delivered to recipients. To combat this major change, the USDA proposal suggests adding to current systems like food delivery programs for the elderly. However, according to Stacy Dean, vice president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only 0.63 million individuals participate in that program. However, the USDA accounted for potential administrative costs in their proposal, setting aside $2.5 billion per year for states’ administrative costs.
The Viability in the Legislature
The $840 billion supermarkets industry has unsurprisingly come out against the proposal. Food stamps account for around 7.5% of the sales, and Walmart alone accounts for approximately one-fifth of food stamp sales. Candy companies have previously come out against the removal of sweet items from food stamp payable items. Congressman will have to answer to those large industries if they for for this bill, resulting in a reduced viability in the Legislature. However, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue are in support, and the savings alone may sway some Representatives to seriously consider the proposal.
Leftists are strongly against this proposal, stating that it removes freedoms from the SNAP recipients and reduces profits in the food industry. On the other hand, conservatives argue that the government’s SNAP program gives “free” benefits to citizens, and the government has every right to explore alternate methods of saving money. As the phrase goes, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.