President Trump’s proposal to slash funding for nutrition and to convert much of the remaining aid to food boxes that the federal government would deliver may be the very worst idea emanating from Washington, D.C.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, is one of the most successful and efficient public efforts to aid needy Americans. The majority of Americans receiving SNAP are elderly, disabled or children, and most of the rest work at low-wage jobs. Benefits are distributed on electronic debit cards that allow recipients to purchase groceries at their local stores. SNAP feeds the hungry and puts money in the local economy — with no government distribution or deliver system.
The Trump administration proposal would change that efficient model into a bureaucratic obstacle course where taxpayers fund government food purchases, warehousing and distribution. As a result, Americans needing help with their grocery bills would have less choice in their foods. They would be unable to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables that are essential to healthy diets. The federal government would dictate what they could eat, according to what pre-packaged, shelf-stable foods the government put in monthly boxes.
The USDA says Trump’s ‘harvest box’ plan would save $129.2 billion over 10 years. Additionally, the administration's plan would cut overall SNAP benefits by 30 percent over the next decade.
The end of the month is the busiest time at Billings Food Bank. Paychecks and Social Security checks have run out and food cupboards are bare, so needy neighbors turn to local helping agencies.
“None of the programs are set up to be 100 percent of people’s needs for the month,” said Sheryle Shandy, Food Bank executive director.
Last year, Billings Food Bank distributed 151,935 food boxes, Shandy said. The nonprofit agency runs on private donations and receives no state or federal aid. However, Shandy says reductions in government put more demands on private charities.
Both Billings Food Bank and Family Service Inc. encourage eligible people to sign up for SNAP. Family Service Inc. helps clients apply for SNAP.
“SNAP benefits really help people nutritionally,” said Stacy Brown, executive director for Family Service. “Eliminating SNAP hurts working people in the service industry.”
“It’s unmerciful; it’s wrong,” Brown said of proposed cutbacks to SNAP.
SNAP is used in all 56 Montana counties with more than 120,000 Montanans relying on it for some of their monthly food. The average monthly household benefit was $248, and the average monthly benefit per person was $119 in July, the most recent month reported on the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website.
In that month, 17,414 people in Yellowstone County received some SNAP benefit, as did 949 in Custer County; 659 in Dawson County; 730 in Richland County; 13,401 in Missoula County; and 11,237 in Flathead County.
Nobody who receives SNAP is getting rich from that aid. Nobody is even getting enough food for a month. They are just getting by; that’s what SNAP does for low-income Americans.
SNAP keeps Americans from going hungry. This successful program must be re-authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill; it should be continued at present levels in the belated 2018 federal budget.