The Trump Administration introduced their 2019 budget proposal on Monday that would partially replace the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with a grocery box delivery service called “America’s Harvest Box.”
The new program would be operated similarly to subscription meal services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh which deliver weekly meal kits with pre-portioned ingredients and recipes that subscribers cook themselves.
Under the government's current program, SNAP recipients use an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card like a debit or credit card to pay for groceries.
However, SNAP benefits can't be used for the following:
- Pet Food
- Paper Products
- Household Supplies
- Vitamins & Medicines
- Hot Foods
Instead of letting households who receive more than $90 a month in "food stamps" continue to use their SNAP benefit to buy food at their local grocery store, the Agriculture Department (USDA) would issue households a box of non-perishable foods such as shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned foods.
The USDA claims the new plan would save $129.2 billion over the next decade.
Trump’s proposed budget would reduce SNAP benefits by $17.2 billion in 2019, cutting nearly 30 percent of the program's total cost. The changes would affect 34 million people in 16 million households in 2019.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney described the proposal as a “Blue Apron-type program where you receive the food instead of receiving the cash.”
Mulvaney said the new program would cut costs with half the money saved going towards the boxes.
“It lowers the cost to us because we can buy prices at wholesale, whereas they have to buy it at retail,” Mulvaney said. “It also makes sure that they're getting nutritious food. So we're pretty excited about that."
People across the country from West Virginia to Oregon had mixed reaction to the proposed changes.
Caitlin Cook, communications director for the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, told our affiliate WVAH that the proposed changes would impact over 70,000 West Virginians.
"I think it's quite difficult to live in the state of West Virginia and not know somebody who is employed in a low-wage industry and does not rely and use SNAP on a day-to-day basis. I think we should be working towards helping them with food security because food security and health care are actually things that help people get a job and maintain that job," Cook said.
Cook said the most important part of SNAP is connecting recipients to healthier food.
"I think any change to the snap program that would help connect West Virginia's with healthier food is a great idea," she said. "It's not only a great idea for those people who need food assistance, but it's a great idea for farmers across the state."
The government’s meal boxes would include "100 percent American grown foods provided directly to households."
“I think any change to the snap program that would help connect West Virginia’s with healthier food is a great idea. It’s not only a great idea for those people who need food assistance, but it’s a great idea for farmers across the state.”
Food for Lane County in Eugene Oregon serves about 78,000 people, and it says it tried the meal kit system before. Our affiliate KVAL asked them what they thought about Trump’s meal kit proposal.
"Years ago, we used to give people boxes and we'd find a lot of the food out in the parking lot because it wasn't the food they wanted to eat or the food they were familiar with," said Beverlee Potter, with Food for Lane County. "So, self-selection is important in giving people the nutrition and food to people that they need."
Victoria Mills, from El Paso, Texas, feeds her family of seven with the help of SNAP. She spoke to our affiliate KFOX about the program.
"My disabled son is on a bunch of medicines that cost a lot of money. We spend $2,000 alone on that, and if we had to buy food on top of that, that would be another $1,000," Mills said. "I don't support the food box, think about the people that actually have allergies and everything," she continued. "Would you want your kids suffering?"
Under the proposed plan, SNAP benefits would be capped at six per household. Any additional family members would not be covered.