If you're a parent who is doing alright financially, you might not have heard the news. But if you're part of the 40 million-plus who are currently struggling and on SNAP, you might know that President Donald Trump just proposed a budget replacing half of your benefits with something they call the “America’s Harvest Box.”
This box will include things like peanut butter, beans, cereal, canned meats, pasta, juice and canned fruits and veggies. As a former SNAP (and WIC and Medicaid) recipient, I know there is a lot that could and likely will go wrong if such a system is implemented.
For one, this severely limits your benefits. What they're doing is modeling SNAP after WIC, which limits the kinds of foods you’re able to get, such as peanut butter and cereal, to only a few specific brands. Limiting choices means you’re unable to purchase the foods and brands you like, and odds are, they will be going with whatever choices cost the least.
Many will end up getting shorted out of half their benefits, keeping the poor exactly where they are.
Who is going to tell the government to spring for organic or non-GMO brands, or foods that are lower in sugar and sodium? There’s this misconception that the poor should only eat the cheapest foods because they are poor. But don’t people who are financially struggling still deserve to make food choices for themselves? Certainly with this “box,” they will have no say. This in turn could very well affect the health and wellness of a population of people who are already struggling, and who will have less of a chance at upward mobility as a result.
And what about people with food allergies? Or people that have other dietary needs like kosher or vegetarian? Anyone who has ever used a government food program knows that it can be hard enough to obtain the right foods for you and your family when choices are limited.
Does anyone seriously thing Trump is going to allow you to pick gluten-free pasta and lactose-free milk in your box? Sure, it’s possible, but even if there’s a checkbox to mention one allergy or preference, they’re rarely willing to accommodate for everything. Meanwhile, current SNAP recipients have the freedom to purchase whatever foods they need for their families, no questions asked.
Word is that the way boxes are handed out will be left up to the state. So no, the government isn’t going to mail you a box on the first of each month (and if they did, there’s always the chance that the box doesn’t arrive or gets stolen). Instead, your state decides whether to mail it at their cost, or have you go pick up the box. (As a note: SNAP benefits normally get added to a card to use to fit your schedule.)
If you have to pick your box up from a center, that means you may have to take time off work (or from looking for work). You might need to drive there (if you have a car, which will cost gas), or take a bus (which costs money and takes additional time). Boxes might be too heavy for some recipients to handle, furthering their inaccessibility. And god forbid you’re disabled and unable to transport yourself anywhere, as some SNAP recipients are, what then?
In short, it seems like many will end up getting shorted out of half their benefits, keeping the poor exactly where they are. But hey, maybe that’s the plan.