“Honey, can you answer the door? I think the SNAPBox just got dropped off.”
In what is likely a familiar scenario for many families across the country, the hypothetical talking point above mimics real life: whether it be Blue Apron or Amazon or Walmart, people are getting more and more used to their food being delivered to their doors. However, can that dynamic be replicated by government assistance programs, like SNAP?
This is a question the Trump Administration appears to be actively debating. The administration proposed replacing SNAP’s cash benefits with American grown food packages for recipients receiving over $90 a month in benefits. The food package would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned fruit, vegetables and meat, poultry or fish, reported Bloomberg (Feb. 12).
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was first launched May 16, 1939, as the Food Stamp Program. While the program has evolved, with major legislative changes in the early 1970s and the introduction of electronic benefits transfer cards in the late 1990s, the basic premise has remained the same: individuals who are living under the federal poverty level are be entitled to vouchers that can be traded in to eligible retailers for specific foods. The Trump administration’s proposal would fundamentally change this dynamic.
SNAP purchases represent a significant portion of sales in the U.S. food industry, and retailers, in general, tend to benefit from this program. In 2016, SNAP participants redeemed about $67 billion in SNAP benefits for food purchases, supporting retailers of every size, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). From CBPP:
“SNAP generates business for retailers of all types and sizes. SNAP retailers comprise big- box superstores and major national grocery chains as well as small specialty stores, convenience stores, and farmers’ markets. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of authorized retailers increased by 5%. Recent growth in the number of participating retailers has made SNAP an integral part of the food retail industry.”
So, how would the public respond to such a measure? If the media is any indication, not so good:
- “Government takes SNAP ‘harvest box’ proposal to a patronizing extreme” – The Boston Globe
- “Trump Administration Wants To Decide What Food SNAP Recipients Will Get” – NPR
- “Humiliating people who need SNAP by picking their meals for them is Dickensian” – NBC News
Although the titles might be engaging in some top-level ClickBait tactics, I think they do echo a concern among Americans: what choice will they have if all of the items are picked by the government? But I do see some leeway here. Many of the boxed subscription meal services offer a set list of items to choose from, and customers pick their favorites every week. If the government could establish a similar program, would people be less inclined to call Big Brother on the SNAP program?
Much remains to be seen regarding this issue, and the program hasn’t even been codified as law. However, it does make you wonder: is SNAP about to be propelled into a high-technology world? Only time will tell.