The Trump Administration is proposing tremendous changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), one of which involves replacing some food stamps with a meal-delivery service similar to Blue Apron or Amazon Fresh. Under the proposed changes, the Department of Agriculture would send boxes of basic food items to households receiving more than $90 a month in SNAP assistance.
The budget proposal would affect 81 percent of the households receiving SNAP assistance. These households would “receive a portion of their benefits in the form of a USDA Foods package, 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 system would, theoretically, introduce discretion into the types of foods the American government will provide.
“The SNAP program doesn’t put any thought into nutrition whatsoever,” Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., co-author of a study referenced in the proposal, relayed to The Daily Meal, “and users of SNAP find themselves not doing as well in certain health categories, specifically diabetes and heart disease. What if we did limit what people can use their SNAP funds for?”
The boxes would include nutrient-dense staples such as beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables — foods that many SNAP-assisted shoppers often omit from their grocery budgets.
“Now they are not going to only get sodas and junk food and Slim Jims and cheese wheels,” Levin continued, “but instead they’re going to buy foods that could prevent and reverse chronic diseases.”
More indulgent food items, such as processed snacks and dessert, would not be supplied. “SNAP is supplemental,” Levin says, “and we’re not saying people can’t go buy what they want with money that they have.”
There’s no doubt that malnutrition and poor diet is a problem among low-income Americans. But some advocates for fighting hunger are concerned that the program changes are a part of a much larger political issue.
“Quite candidly, [the meal-delivery system] looks like a distraction from the big picture agenda, which is to dramatically reduce SNAP,” expressed Triada Stampas, the vice president for research and public affairs for the Food Bank for New York City, to The Daily Meal. The Food Bank for New York City is the largest emergency food provider for New York City, providing approximately 62 million free meals per year.
“As an emergency food provider, we know that any cut to SNAP has a ripple effect,” Stampas expressed. “When SNAP benefits were cut in 2013 by 5.6 percent, it was cast as something minor. But the month that cut went into effect, we saw an immediate and widespread increase in need. We haven’t seen that increase in traffic to our food banks diminish, despite a growing economy.”
Stampas fears that a budget cut of this much larger size would be “absolutely catastrophic.”
Stampas also expressed concern that the meal-delivery system described in the budget might be unrealistic for implementation in the short term. She claims the government simply does not have the resources in place to effectively transport the meals.
“If you look at the history of SNAP, what you see is that SNAP is an incredibly efficient and effective way of providing support,” Stampas recalled. “It leverages a delivery mechanism and infrastructure that exists across the country and is incredibly cost effective. It would take the construction of an entirely new infrastructure in order to achieve household delivery of commodity goods.”
For households relying on SNAP entirely, the resulting inefficiency and lack of support could be detrimental to their ability to effectively feed their families.
The foods provided in the boxes “all have benefits to them in terms of health outcomes,” according to the dietitian Levin. But few of the nutritious items in the proposal seem to be making it onto President Trump’s own grocery list, despite the administration’s plan to assign them to America’s low-income population.