The Trump Administration recently proposed moving toward replacing a portion of the monetary allotment that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients currently receive with a USDA foods package selected by the government.
To the Editorial Board, this change, if instated correctly, could address systemic national food scarcity and nutrition issues. Unfortunately, we also believe further proposed budget cuts and a latent Trump-era animosity toward the poor will likely cripple what could have been a societal improvement.
The current administration believes the government could deliver these food packages to the homes of SNAP beneficiaries in a more wholesale, cost-effective manner than allowing the recipients to shop at retail stores. Over the next 10 years, this proposal could reduce the federal cost of SNAP by $129 billion dollars.
These packages would contain products such as canned food, pasta, shelf-stable milk and peanut butter.
SNAP currently provides food assistance to low- and no-income families in order to raise the nutritional level of impoverished households.
The Editorial Board believes that these proposed changes, while potentially cost-saving for the government, are not in the best interest of the individuals and families on SNAP .
Delivered food packages would remove the freedom of choice provided by the electronic benefits transfer cards currently used for federally funded food purchases.
Furthermore, the current SNAP program fraud rate is a mere 1.5 percent. Home delivery forces participants to incur the risk of package theft, weather-related spoilage or shipping-induced damage.
Many farmers' markets also double the purchasing power of food stamps, allowing SNAP beneficiaries to purchase greater quantities of healthy local fresh produce.
Two of our Editorial Board members have previously been on the program and voiced their concerns about the proposed changes.
Both members said that while on SNAP, their families needed to be selective about what foods their families bought in order to feed their entire families.
While there are problems with SNAP's current form, the Editorial Board does not think the current administration's proposal will fix them.
One member of the editorial board who used food stamps for almost 10 years said she was worried families would not be able to make decisions that were best for themselves.
The USDA food package, which would replace about half of the EBT funds for more than 80 percent of SNAP beneficiaries, would eliminate the freedom of participants to buy their favorite fruits or vegetables or other potentially beneficial foods.
The lack of autonomy in choosing what foods they get to eat may not help the families.
For some, however, this choosiness could be doing more harm than good. SNAP participants may exclude fresh produce and healthier options, opting instead for calorie-dense processed foods or junk foods that last longer for and cost less.
Cindy Leung, a nutrition researcher at UC San Francisco, completed a study that shows teens and adults on food assistance programs have larger waist circumferences and higher levels of obesity than those not enrolled in the program. This could be due to the cost of healthy, wholesome foods as well as the availability of the food itself.
Poorer families living in food deserts are even less likely to have access to substantial foods. Both of the former users of SNAP from the Editorial Board mentioned it was often more important to have calorie-dense foods than foods that provided other important vitamins and minerals.
For many participants, canned green beans might be substituted for another jar of peanut butter or box of macaroni. The proposed food package would eliminate this ability to choose.
The food package plan could address nutritional deficiencies and food scarcity, especially in rural communities, but forcing SNAP beneficiaries to participate in this proposal takes away their autonomy and may create different barriers to consistent food access.
Food, as a basic necessity for survival, must be considered a human right. Families and recipients should be able to decide what method of food access is best for them, not the government.
Different individuals will benefit from different forms of access. Reducing their options further is a cruel and dangerous simplification.