In a bid to save billions, the Trump administration has proposed replacing food stamps with boxes of government-picked, nonperishable foods.
Buried in the White House's 2019 budget, the proposal would replace roughly half the money most families receive via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, with what the Department of Agriculture has deemed “America's harvest box.”
The box, which the USDA claims would save over $129 billion over the next decade, would contain shelf-stable items, like peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal. The proposal does not cover fresh items, such as produce or meat, which are incredibly expensive to ship and also perish quickly.
In addition to the lack of fresh items, critics point out that the theoretical savings from this program are unrealistic, as no delivery system for these harvest boxes has been considered.
“It will be a bigger cost than what it's worth,” SNAP recipient and Palestine resident Natalie Granneman told the Herald-Press on Thursday. “I get the idea behind it, but I don't see it working.”
Granneman, 35, pointed out that not everyone is a skilled cook, and a generic box of food could be problematic for some.
“There are those who live in motels and don't have a stove,” she said. “What about those with allergies? It's a bad idea.”
Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue, who praised the box plan as a “bold, innovative approach,” claimed SNAP recipients would enjoy the same level of food value, whilst saving taxpayers money.
Kevin Concannon, who oversaw SNAP during the Obama administration, disagreed. He likened the program to the food lines common during the Great Depression.
“I don't know where this came from,” Concannon said. “I suspect that the folks, when they were drawing it up, were also watching silent movies.”
Other anti-hunger advocates, who also compared the concept to the soup lines of the Great Depression, called the harvest box idea “costly, inefficient, stigmatizing and prone to failure.”
Palestine resident and SNAP recipient Sheena Gallandt agreed, saying that the stigmatizing aspect of the program would be unbearable.
“I feel as if people already look down on you when you use your SNAP card,” she said. “I can't imagine having a government box delivered to my house, let alone having to wait in line for food.”
A single-mother, Gallandt, 31, said that, although she is employed full-time, her SNAP benefits are often her main income source for groceries.
“This isn't supplemental for me,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn't even stretch to the end of the month.”
Grocery retailers also balked at the proposal. Not only is the planned program inefficient, they said, but it would negatively effect local economies, as SNAP recipients would no longer be shopping with local grocers.
“Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account,” said Jennifer Hatcher, public information officer for the Food Marketing Institute. “But, it would increase costs in other areas, and that would negate any savings.”
Critics have also cited a possible rise in crime as an unforeseen byproduct of the harvest box initiative.
With millions of families depending upon SNAP benefits as part of their monthly income, the cessation of these funds, they said, could lead to an increase in crimes such as burglary and theft.
“I can't say for certain that such a thing will happen,” Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey said. “But, I do know that desperate people act desperately.”
The decision to fund the harvest box proposal is ultimately up to Congress; a decision Concannon believes to be unlikely.
“Even the people who put this forward have to know,” he said. “The chances of this happening are the same as me captaining the next spaceship launching from Florida.”