In an effort to cut spending on food assistance to low-income families, the Trump administration has proposed replacing some food stamps with a meal delivery type service. The Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program (SNAP), often colloquially referred to as food stamps, provide a monthly supplement for purchasing healthy food to eligible, low-income families.
Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney said these meal deliveries would be akin to Blue Apron, but the comparison is downright laughable when you look at what the government actually proposes.
Blue Apron customers get to choose their meals and receive insulated boxes of fresh proteins and vegetables. According to The Washington Post, recipients of “America’s Harvest Boxes” would get “shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned meat, fruits and vegetables.” All these items would be homegrown by “American farmers and producers” for that added jingoistic je ne sais quoi.
For households receiving more than $90 per month in benefits (that’s 81% of SNAP households overall), half of those benefits would come in the form of these government-provided boxes.
Mulvaney defends the approach, saying that the government can buy food wholesale at a low cost, which is more economical than having people buy it directly at retail. Which technically may be true, but critics were quick to point out many of the problems with this Harvest Box approach.
Are you allergic to dairy or gluten? Too bad, the USDA decided milk and cereal are best for you.
— Bryce Covert (@brycecovert) February 12, 2018
1. What if you don’t receive your box one month?
2. What if you’re homeless?
3. What if you don’t have a place to receive mail?
4. What if you move frequently?
5. What if you have allergies?
6. What if the box gets wet, or animals get into it?
— Annie Lowrey (@AnnieLowrey) February 13, 2018
Then there are the retailers. Walmart and Target could lose billions with these proposed cuts to food stamp purchases, and it would certainly hurt the new USDA pilot program set to launch later this year that allows food stamp purchases to be made with retailers online.
And that doesn’t even touch on the logistics and expense of having the government oversee preparation and shipping of millions of boxes on time on a regular basis.
To be sure, the food stamp program in America needs to be updated and improved. And there are startups such as All_ebt out there trying to make it easier for SNAP participants to access more options for fresher, healthier food through online food deliveries.
“We are going backwards in terms of technology,” said All_ebt founder Eli Calderón Morin told me by phone. “Fundamentally, I don’t think we should try to police what people eat.” Morin believes the conversation should be changed from punishing people simply because they are poor to empowering people to make better financial and healthier choices—which isn’t going to happen if the government takes those choices and boxes them up.