President Trump Has a New Idea for Food Stamp Reform

Beth Baumann
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Posted: Feb 13, 2018 12:15 AM
President Trump Has a New Idea for Food Stamp Reform

President Donald Trump has a new idea for food stamp reform. His proposal is part of the 2019 fiscal budget and would replace about half of the money families receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), POLITICO reported.

About the Program

The Department of Agriculture is referring to the proposal as "America's Harvest Box," which would provide families with food that is 100 grown and produced in the United States. Families who receive $90 or more per month in SNAP benefits would receive part of their food stamps in the form of the boxed food, "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 proposal outlined.

The additional amount of the families food stamp benefits would go onto their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card for them to use at grocery stores.

"This cost-effective approach will generate significant savings to taxpayers with no loss in food benefits to participants," the proposal said. "It will also improve the nutritional value of the benefit provided and reduce the potential for EBT fraud. States will have substantial flexibility in designing the food box delivery system through existing infrastructure, partnerships, or commercial/retail delivery services."

The United State Department of Agriculture believes this would save $214 billion over 10 years while providing healthy food for low-income Americans, Bloomberg reported.

“USDA America’s Harvest Box is a bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families — and all of it is homegrown by American farmers and producers,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program, and is responsible to the taxpayers.”

The proposal fails to mention how families would receive the food boxes but instead puts that burden on the states to "distribute them through existing infrastructure, partnerships or directly to residences through delivery services," FOX 6 reported. 

Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told CNN: "It's a risky scheme that threatens families' ability to put food on the table."

Closing the Loopholes

To make sure those who truly need food stamps are receiving the benefits, the Trump administration wants to close loopholes in order to strengthen the expectation that able-bodied adults can and will work.

They plan to do this by:

• Limiting eligibility to those who are receiving cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Social Security Insurance (SSI).

• Modifying income and benefit calculations to ensure benefits go to the neediest households.

• Aligning working age definitions with other federal programs.

• Eliminating certain exemptions and limiting the use of waivers so that more able-bodied adults are able to work.

In the proposal, the Trump administration said they plan to share relevant data with states while also holding them accountable. The administration wants states to focus on long-term employment for SNAP participants to get them off of the benefit.

The Skeptics

The Food Marketing Institute — which represents major stores, like Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons — is doing everything in their power to advocate against this proposal. It's no wonder why. Tens of billions of SNAP benefits are spent each year in their stores. And, of course, the grocery industry is arguing the food boxes would be inefficient. 

According to Jennifer Hatcher, the Food Marketing Insitute's chief public policy officer, grocery stores worked with the USDA and Congress over a number of years to “achieve a national system, utilizing existing commercial infrastructure and technology to achieve the greatest efficiency, availability and lowest cost," POLITICO reported.

"As we understand the proposal in the president's budget to create a USDA commodity foods box of staples, each of these achievements would be lost,” Hatcher said. "Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account, but based on our decades of experience in the program, it would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings.”

The Trump administration pointed out one very important point: the USDA already distributes food commodities to schools, food banks and other organizations who then hand the food out to low-income families in need.