WASHINGTON — Kevin Gallagher knows what it`s like to rely on SNAP food benefits. “After a brain tumor, I wasn’t able to work. I had to do that for me and my kids,” he said.
He used them to get through a tough time, and he’s not alone.
According to the Department of Human Services, more than 200,000 people in Shelby County rely on SNAP to afford food.
But soon that could change based on President Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal to cut the SNAP budget by about one-third.
Think of it as Blue Apron for food stamp recipients.
That’s how Budget Director Mick Mulvaney described the Trump administration’s proposal to replace nearly half of poor Americans’ monthly cash benefits with a box of food. It would affect households that receive at least $90 a month in food stamps, or roughly 38 million people.
“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue 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.”
Part of the President’s fiscal 2019 budget blueprint, the idea immediately sparked concerns and questions among consumer advocates and food retailers. They feared it would upend a much-needed benefit for more than 80% of those in the program.
Here’s how it would work:
Instead of receiving all their food stamp funds, households would get a box of food that the government describes as nutritious and 100% grown and produced in the U.S. The so-called USDA America’s Harvest Box would contain items such as shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. The box would be valued at about half of the SNAP recipient’s monthly benefit. The remainder of their benefits would be given to them on electronic benefit cards, as before.
The administration didn’t detail exactly how families would receive the food boxes, saying states could distribute them through existing infrastructure, partnerships or directly to residences through delivery services.
The proposal would save nearly $130 billion over 10 years, as well as improve the nutritional value of the program and reduce the potential for fraud, according to the administration.
In a statement to WREG, Congressman Steve Cohen called the plan “both impractical and cruel.”
“The administration is waging war on low-income people while assuring the rich get much richer with the recent GOP unfair tax scam. The proposal to sever the link between SNAP eligibility and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is another solution in search of a problem and only makes life more difficult for those struggling to both eat and heat their homes. A fully funded SNAP is critical and I will fight to assure it continues to work.”
The Mid-South Food Bank says they will lobby against it.
“It was certainly nor heartening, because of the cut to SNAP benefits of $213 billion in the next 10 years. That’s cutting that program by a third. Anytime that happens that’s not good for people suffering from hunger,” Marcia Wells, with the Memphis Food Bank, said.
“You got a lot of people who sell a lot of food stamps, and they’re not doing the best things with them. So it will probably help cut a lot of that out. I think it’s a good idea,” resident Curtis Mcafee said.
Consumer advocates also questioned whether the federal government could save that much money by purchasing and distributing food on its own. Also, they were concerned that families would not know what food they would get in advance nor have any choice regarding what they receive. Plus, it could be difficult for families to pick up the box, especially if they don’t have a car.
“It’s a risky scheme that threatens families’ ability to put food on the table,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.