Why the Trump administration’s new SNAP proposal is hard to swallow
By Devra First
February 20, 2018
The Boston Globe
Sometimes cruelty comes in a can.
See the Trump administration’s 2019 budget, which proposes changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This money is currently delivered via Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which means recipients can go to the store, fill their carts with the food they need and like, then purchase it. Go grocery shopping, in other words. It’s both logical and efficient: The food is already where it needs to be; participants are responsible for transporting it to its final destination.
The new plan, however, would give households receiving $90 or more per month about half their benefits in the form of a USDA food package cynically named the “America’s Harvest Box,” filled with “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish.” Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney compared it to the meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron — but it’s awfully hard to make harissa-glazed chicken drumsticks with potato wedges and zucchini when your box doesn’t contain chicken, potatoes, or zucchini.
You’ve probably read about this proposal, because it was met with swift outrage. Now here is what it would look like in practice:
Let’s say I have $90 in benefits. I spend the first half as I would under the current SNAP system, where funds are delivered to an EBT card. At my local Star Market, I drop $43.88, looking for sales and thinking about meal planning as I go.
I buy a whole chicken, roast it, and serve it with green beans and oven fries made from sweet potatoes and russets. The leftover chicken gets tossed with penne, broccoli, and garlic butter. The carcass goes into a soup pot for a long simmer with onion, garlic, carrots, and celery; I add rice, eggs, and lemon juice to make avgolemono. Pinto beans cooked with bacon pair with cornbread and sauteed Swiss chard. The leftover cornbread can be toasted to eat with bacon and eggs for breakfast. The leftover beans go over rice; the leftover rice gets fried with leftover bits of vegetables, meat, and eggs. A 2½-pound container of pre-cut cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and watermelon keeps us in fresh fruit for a few days.
Now it’s time to spend the second half, on the kind of food I’d receive in an America’s Harvest Box. I spend $41 on canned, boxed, shelf-stable ingredients.
I make pasta with jarred sauce, along with canned green beans and corn. We have cereal with shelf-stable milk. Canned pinto beans still go over rice, but I don’t have bacon, onions, garlic, carrots, and celery to cook them with. There is peanut butter but no bread. I love canned sardines, but no one else in my family does; on the other hand, my son is delighted with the sugary fruit cocktail and mandarin oranges.
Then there’s this. The plan isn’t even designed to pass. It’s designed to send a message: that the 42 million people who participate in SNAP ought to be ashamed of themselves, even though more than two-thirds of recipients are children, seniors, or people with disabilities, even though there is a work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents.