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A Dumb Idea

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney deserves enormous credit for doing something that has long been needed. He wants to reform the food stamp program in America. The program has waste, fraud, and abuse issues. It is not terribly efficient. There are people in the program who do not necessarily need to be there. So hats off to Mick Mulvaney for undertaking the thankless job of reform.

The problem is not that Mulvaney undertook reform, but what the proposed White House solution to the food stamp program is. They want to send food stamp recipients boxes of food each month. Mulvaney describes it as a "Blue Apron" style program.

For those unfamiliar with Blue Apron and its competitors like Hello Fresh (disclosure: I am a Blue Apron customer and love it), they are programs where a company sends you food each week with recipes. As an example, I recently received a box containing a recipe for soy-glazed chicken. The box contained all the ingredients necessary to make the meal as well as a very nice recipe card with step-by-step directions.

Each week, prior to the food shipment, I can go online, select the recipes I want for the week, and end the week with a box containing enough for two different meals to feed four people. The programs work around food allergies, variable meal sizes for large or small families, as well as the number of meals one might want each week. I do two meals a week for a family of four.

This is the program the White House suggests will save the government money. The savings will, in part, come from buying food in bulk that the government will then package and ship. That last part is where it all begins to fall apart.

I have a hard time believing former Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) would ever support the program being proposed by himself now in the role as White House Budget Director. In fact, when Mulvaney was in Congress, his Republican colleagues were criticizing the Obama White House for altering the school lunch program. It is really hard to believe that people who want to privatize the post office are suddenly fans of the government boxing up and shipping food to people. Why not outsource it to the private sector and let existing companies bid?

Lest we forget, the federal government ran headlong into a disaster setting up the Obamacare website that crashed repeatedly and had to be reworked. How, other than a website, would they let the poor set up their schedules, preferences, allergies, etc? And who would be responsible for managing those preferences? What liability would the federal government have when the family with peanut allergies reacts because of cross contamination?

Beyond those issues, if Republicans do this they are setting themselves up for future attacks should the federal government ever shut down. An army of reporters will jump at the chance to cover poor people who have not received their boxes of food due to a shutdown. The Republicans will be accused of literally starving people.

The whole idea also sounds ripe for abuse. The program would only use American goods and produce. Which farms would be selected to provide the produce? Which vendors would be allowed into the program? How long before a future administration decided a cereal manufacturer had not made enough campaign contributions and so would be excluded? This system would be asking for fraud, mismanagement, and abuse in a way sending money to an EBT card does not. It introduces a greater human element susceptible to coercion and corruption.

A boxed food program sounds more command and control Soviet than it does American. One need only a little imagination to see how a future administration would determine Americans need more Brussels sprouts, so that goes in the box. "Eat it or starve," the commissar would bark.

There is an alternative. The government could do what it does now. It puts money on EBT cards for the poor who then get to engage in the very American concept of choosing their own food. Further restrict locations for EBT usage and root out waste, fraud, and abuse.

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