I am not ashamed to admit that I receive SNAP benefits. As a single mother on a freelancer’s salary, it’s necessary for me to have that safety net to be able to feed my son. He’s four, growing like a weed, and constantly hungry. I get enough in SNAP benefits to make sure we are never hungry, something we were (or rather I was) while we waited to find out if we were going to be granted the benefits.
Now, I am reading that the Trump administration has proposed a restructuring of the way the SNAP program works, and the main objective is limiting the options recipients have in terms of the food they use their benefits for.
As of right now, benefits are loaded on an EBT card (which is like a debit card) every month and you can go to any store that accepts SNAP benefits to buy whatever groceries you need. With this new proposal, however, any beneficiaries who receive at least $90 in benefits (according to NPR, that’s 80 percent of those who receive benefits) will get a box filled with things like shelf stable milk, boxed cereal, and canned fruits and vegetables among other things.
Nothing fresh. Because apparently poor families don’t deserve fresh fruit, vegetables, or milk from the cold case.
It’s all about money, of course. They say it will slash the SNAP budget over time and save taxpayer money, but let’s not be fooled. In 2012, the average American paid just $36 into the SNAP program. $36 per year. $3 per month. To help families keep food on the table.
The most fatal flaw in this new plan? The inability for beneficiaries to choose their own foods. For a political party that is generally opposed to how much involvement the government has, this seems quite contradictory to their core beliefs. In fact, it’s allowing the government into our daily lives in a very personal, controlling, and dehumanizing way.
According to USDA records for 2016, two-thirds of those who receive SNAP benefits are under 18, over 60, or disabled. My preschooler is a little boy who thrives on fresh fruit and vegetables. Any doctor will tell you the importance of providing your growing children with a nutritionally diverse selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. About 25 percent of my monthly grocery budget goes to buying him things like apples, cucumbers, strawberries and carrots. Taking away, or severely limiting my ability to purchase such things would be devastating to his diet. Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean I’m incapable of making a budget and planning for my family’s needs. And what the hell is shelf stable milk in the first place?
As it stands, there is no mention in this proposal of how they would address the growing number of people who suffer from dietary restrictions like allergies or intolerances. Boxed cereals could be damaging for people who have diseases like Celiac. People who are deathly allergic to peanuts, do not need peanut butter in their box, and it seems that all boxes will be the same. Beneficiaries are not allowed to choose what goes in the boxes.
Miguelina Diaz, who works with families finding food aid through Hunger Free America, notes another important factor that the proposal misses, “We deal with different people of different backgrounds. Limiting them by providing them a staple box would limit the choices of food they can prepare for their families,” she tells NPR.
Granted, this falls right in line with the current administration’s stance on things like immigration and people of color, who are mostly regarded as unwanted, second class citizens. Limiting their ability to make the food of their cultures forces them to assimilate in a way even more basic than demanding that all citizens learn to speak English. There is nothing noting that cooking guides would be provided along with these meal kits. Blue Apron meals, they surely are not.
Like all things Trumpian, there are a lot of questions that aren’t answered here. Like, how would the boxes be delivered? According to the budget, the states will have the ability to create “substantial flexibility in designing the food box delivery system through existing infrastructure, partnerships or commercial/retail delivery services.” But, what about people who live in extremely rural areas? Will there be a delivery van that bring meals around from the city? Will they have to make a massive trip to a more centralized location, like a local welfare office to get their monthly box? If this is the case, low-income adults may have to take an entire day off work to stand in line and receive a box of food that may not be enough to actually provide much for their families. Not to mention the cost of transportation to get their meager offerings. And, what if they don’t have a car or insurance? Then, what?
Where is the humanity in this? Who is it really helping?
Furthermore, if this is all about the mighty dollar, how will this complicated, poorly planned reform save any money? The staffing, resources, and time needed to assemble, deliver, and account for these boxes is going to be astronomical. But, hey, if it prevents poor folks from having a banana, then it’s all worth it, right?
For someone who works their ass off to support their family, I find this whole proposal dehumanizing. “Removing choice from SNAP flies in the face of encouraging personal responsibility,” Douglas Greenaway, president of the National WIC Association told NPR. “The budget seems to assume that participating in SNAP is a character flaw.”
The current Republican administration has made it clear that they believe that being poor is a conscious decision; they are the same people who have the mentality that poor people can just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and somehow rise out of their poverty. The cost of living is constantly rising, while wages grow at a snail’s pace. How are we supposed to pull ourselves out of poverty when at every turn we’re being stymied?
The budget still has to pass Congress, and last year they ignored his proposed budget. There’s a chance that they will do the same thing this year. We can only hope, because this is so out of control that I wouldn’t even want to think about the damage it will do to the millions of families who depend on these benefits to keep themselves, and their children, alive and thriving.