The Trump Administration Still Wants To Put Food Benefits In A Box

The Trump administration is not letting go of an idea that one Democrat called downright stupid when they proposed it last year: replacing food benefits for millions of Americans with boxes of canned goods.

As part of a symbolic budget proposal that boosts the military and slashes domestic spending, the administration said Monday it was sticking with the “Harvest Box” idea, even though they have never really tried to explain how it could work.

Instead of receiving a monthly sum that they can spend on food in grocery stores, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries would receive a portion of their benefit as a box of food. It would be a radical change to one of America’s biggest programs. Instead of shopping for food like regular customers as they currently do, millions of households would receive a portion of their benefit as a box of food chosen by the government.

Last year, Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney likened the Harvest Box to Blue Apron, the luxury meal delivery service, even though the proposal provided no funds for delivery. And it would be once a month instead of every day. And the food would be shelf-stable stuff like canned beans or evaporated milk instead of fresh ingredients for gourmet meals.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called it “stupid” last year, saying it had come out of nowhere. When Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) asked Mulvaney at a hearing last year if he had considered the costs and logistics of home delivery, he couldn’t answer the question ― he just said the proposal would save money.

As of Monday morning, the administration had provided no information about how the new Harvest Box proposal might differ from the old. And yet an official repeated that food would go straight to people’s doors.

“The America’s Harvest Box proposal maintains our commitment to preventing hunger while significantly reducing the cost to taxpayers by combining the retail-based SNAP benefit with the direct provision of nutritious and 100 percent American grown USDA food package provided directly to households,” an administration official said.

The Trump budget for 2020 would slash food assistance by nearly 30 percent overall. That and other proposed deep cuts to domestic programs would never get through Congress, especially not when Democrats control the House of Representatives. But even when Republicans did, they couldn’t pass food stamp cuts that were modest by comparison. The food box idea is a reach even by the standards of a symbolic budget document.

The Harvest Box is based on a tiny initiative called the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides boxes of food to roughly half a million Americans. Some beneficiaries of that program can get home delivery if they’re disabled, but a greater portion have to pick up the food from a central location such as a church basement.

The program relies on charities such as food banks for distribution. One food bank told HuffPost last year that there was no way it could scale up its operation to feed the majority of SNAP beneficiaries in its service area.

Not even the conservative Heritage Foundation, which generally supports the Trump administration’s efforts to curtail SNAP spending, supported the Harvest Box last year.

“It’s not clear why they would re-propose such a flawed and harmful idea,” Stacy Dean, a nutrition policy expert with the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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