Among President Trump’s proposed budget changes, one stands out as particularly cruel to low-income communities. His plan includes a radical change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which currently serves more than 43 million Americans. Right now, SNAP recipients receive the full amount of their benefits on electronic cards, which allow them to select from a wide range of foods and shop with their dietary needs in mind.
The Trump administration plans to cut SNAP’s budget by nearly 30 percent over the next ten years by giving low-income families pre-packaged boxes of pasta, cereal, peanut butter, and other nonperishable foods. The plan is to replace half of a recipient’s total SNAP benefits with the food, leaving them with only half the benefit in cash form.
Not only is his plan vague about the logistics of delivering these boxes, especially to rural communities, but it reveals the fatal flaw that has always been at the heart of the Trump campaign and presidency: He doesn’t care about poor people.
Trump’s “America’s Harvest Box,” which he compares to the food delivery service Blue Apron, includes no fresh fruits, vegetables, meats or poultry. Not only does Blue Apron serve a mostly middle-class to upper-class demographic; it also costs 10 dollars a box and allows recipients to choose which products they receive.
The average cost per meal of a SNAP recipient is less than two dollars, and under Trump’s new proposal, low-income Americans would have no choice of the foods provided to them unless states choose to offer such options. Even though low-income communities already struggle with access to affordable, healthy food options, Trump is exacerbating this issue by force-feeding them processed cereals and canned goods.
For families with severe food allergies and dietary restrictions, this plan could be devastating. Furthermore, families from different cultural backgrounds will lose their much of their access to food from local markets and stores, and they will be forced to assimilate to the food administration officials deem as the staples for American life.
Guidelines already restrict what people can and cannot purchase with federal assistance, and yet low-income people have been subject to scrutiny for decades about their grocery selections. Much of the commentary on the SNAP program has centered around the question: Are poor people selecting items that are more expensive (or more enjoyable) than they deserve?
Living on an average of only 254 dollars in SNAP assistance a month, which amounts to about $1.40 per meal, these families are already required to make the most economical and healthy decisions possible for their families. It is a necessity for their survival. Nobody is buying steak or lobster when they are struggling to put enough food on the table to feed their children.
And although people on SNAP do spend money on junk food and sweetened beverages such as cookies, snacks, ice cream and soda, there are no major differences in the expenditure patterns of SNAP and non-SNAP households. Poor people should not be held to a higher standard than the rest of the nation when it comes to food decisions, especially not when access to affordable, healthy food is more limited in lower-income areas. SNAP has already established certain policies to encourage healthier options for its recipients. For example, each SNAP dollar goes farther when the card is used at farmer’s markets instead of traditional grocery stores.
Fraud in the SNAP program does exist—usually when people trade SNAP benefits for cash or other goods, which is known as food stamp trafficking. In 2017, the rates for SNAP fraud fell to about 1.5 percent. Furthermore, less than 1 percent of SNAP benefits have gone to individuals who were later found to be ineligible.
For a political party that is generally opposed to government involvement in American lives, this seems contradictory to their core beliefs. For low-income families, this plan means allowing the government more control over their daily lives in a very personal and dehumanizing way.
Trump’s new SNAP plan operates under the infantilizing assumption that poor people are incapable of making decisions for their own families and that they can’t be trusted not to waste federal money on frivolous items.
Each day on welfare is already a struggle to survive. This is a daily reality that Trump has been distanced from his entire life, and one he will never understand. This lack of insight into the real lives of poor people leads his administration to come up with ideas that are impractical and almost laughable, if not for the serious consequences for millions of Americans.
Trump’s new budgeting plan for SNAP is far from “Blue Apron for the poor.” At its core, this plan is about depriving low-income people of their already limited control over one of the most basic elements of their day-to-day existence.