Back in 2011, Donald Trump railed about a “food stamp crime wave” in his book “Time to Get Tough,” arguing that benefits should be only temporary and that the Obama Administration had loosened the rules too much.
“The food stamp program was originally created as temporary assistance for families with momentary times of need. And it shouldn’t be needed often,” he wrote. “But when half of food stamp recipients have been on the dole for nearly a decade, something is clearly wrong, and some of it has to do with fraud.”
As president seven years later, his proposed budget would slash the food stamp program while dramatically reshaping it to send food directly to recipients instead of allowing them to buy their own.
During a briefing Monday, budget director Mick Mulvaney described the proposal as a “Blue Apron-type program,” comparing it to the high-end service that delivers $10 meal kits for recipes like roasted cauliflower and farro salad. (The average food stamp benefit works out to about $1.40 a meal, by comparison.)
“What we do is propose that for folks who are on food stamps, part — not all, part — of their benefits come in the actual sort of, and I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright, but a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash,” Mulvaney said.
Like most of the rest of Trump’s budget, the changes to food stamps seem unlikely to pass any time soon. Presidents’ budgets are typically met with indifference at best on Capitol Hill, though ideas in them can often turn into legislation down the road.
The proposal would mark a dramatic shift in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to people who make less than 130% of the federal poverty line — $1,702 or less a month for a family of three under the current calculations. (The cutoff varies based on family size.)
The budget Mulvaney was outlining would spend $17 billion less on food stamps in 2019 — and about $213 billion less over the next decade — while making other cuts to federal safety net programs such as Medicaid.
Instead, lower-income families who get more than $90 in SNAP benefits a month would receive something called “America’s Harvest Box,” items such as canned meat, noodles, juice and shelf-stable milk that the government would buy at wholesale prices.
Under the current program, families on SNAP receive an electronic benefits transfer card that works like a debit card they can use to buy groceries.
Trump’s proposal met with concern from hunger advocacy groups, who charged that it would give families less control over what they eat than the current EBT card system.
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, told NPR the proposal would move away from a “free market model” to “a far more intrusive, Big Government answer. They think a bureaucrat in D.C. is better at picking out what your family needs than you are?”
Representatives of grocery stores were also concerned, with the Food Marketing Institute, a trade organization, arguing that the program would be costly and inefficient.
As for Trump’s claim of a “food stamp crime wave:” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own report, the rate of food stamp trafficking has actually gone down in recent years, reaching just 1.5% in 2017, largely due to the more-secure EBT cards.