US President Donald Trump is proposing a drastic change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) in his 2019 budget where recipients would receive a portion of their benefits in the form of grocery packages.
“Under the proposal, households receiving $90 or more per month in SNAP benefits will receive a portion of their benefits in the form of a USDA Foods package, which would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish,” the budget says.
The plan is part of an effort to reform SNAP and save a projected $214 billion over a decade. Under the plan, the amount of food a household receives would be scaled to the size of the allotment, with about half of the assistance coming as food instead of cash.
“States can distribute these boxes through existing infrastructure, partnerships, and/or directly to residences through commercial and/or retail delivery services,” the US Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
It is not clear how billions of dollars worth of food each year would be distributed to millions of eligible citizens.
About 44 million Americans get benefits from the program each month. Changes to SNAP need to go through the House and Senate agriculture committees.
Last year, Congress largely ignored the administration’s proposal to cut the program by a quarter.
A costly stigmatizing attack on the vulnerable
The plan was quickly criticized by a number of groups and critics who noted its inefficiency and stigmatizing nature.
Joel Berg, the CEO of Hunger Free America, a hunger advocacy group that also helps clients access food-assistance services, said the administration’s plan left him baffled.
“They have managed to propose nearly the impossible, taking over $200 billion worth of food from low-income Americans while increasing bureaucracy and reducing choices,” he said.
Jim Weill, the president of the Food Research & Action Center, also slammed the new proposal arguing that it would replace a system that is working with a “system of commodity distribution via food boxes that will be administratively costly, inefficient, stigmatizing, and prone to failure.”
Stacy Dean, the vice president for food assistance policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, called the proposal “radical and risky.”
The idea that the government could save money by distributing food itself, she said, is “ill-informed at best.”