When you consider that the United States is one of the world’s wealthiest counties, it is disheartening to hear that 1 in 6 Americans don’t have enough food to eat. Many of those struggling with hunger are children and many are part of military families.
In a 2015 report, an estimated $80 million dollars’ worth of food was purchased in military commissaries using the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). This number doesn’t include military families who use other programs like Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) or who don’t shop at the commissary.
So proposed changes to the SNAP program will have a profound impact on military families.
As part of the 2019 budget request, the Trump administration has proposed a dramatic change to the food stamp program. The proposed change includes a reduction in “cash” benefits by half for anyone receiving $90 or more per month. Instead, SNAP cash benefits will be supplemented with a “Blue Apron-type” box filled with shelf-stable foods like canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, cereals, pasta, butter and beans. These boxes, called “America’s Harvest Boxes,” will supposedly save over $129 million dollars over the course of the next 10 years.
The fact that there are military families in need of assistance is an issue for another day, but let’s discuss these food boxes.
It’s an Interesting Idea
There is a part of me that thinks that these boxes could work. I mean, buying in bulk almost always drives down the cost. If the government is using its buying power to get great pricing on products, then I can see the merit. Especially, if that buying power is being used to buy all of the things that are often out of reach, like fresh fruits and vegetables, or gluten-free or organic items.
Except, that these boxes won’t include those items.
Staples like peanut butter, pasta, even canned fruits and vegetables aren’t inherently bad, but the best nutrients and the healthiest of diets, don’t often include many things out of a can.
What about those families who have a child allergic to peanut butter? Or who need gluten-free pasta? Or who need their food to be kosher? What if a family buys from a food bank program or farming cooperative and can actually stretch their SNAP funds further than the box provides?
The argument can be made that beggars can’t be choosers, but the families on SNAP and WIC aren’t exactly beggars. They are often young families or those impacted by loss of employment.
Shouldn’t families be allowed to select the food they know their family will eat?
Should they be forced to eat what the government says they should?
I find this incredibly ironic, considering how adamant this same administration has been in dismantling the school lunch program put in place by the previous administration that was designed to get kids to eat a government mandated balanced meal.
What About Distribution?
If you read through the proposed box system, you’ll notice the distribution of these boxes has been left to the states to figure out. They can “distribute these boxes through existing infrastructure, partnerships, and/or directly to residences through commercial and/or retail delivery services.”
Current food stamp infrastructure most often includes direct deposit of money to a SNAP food card, which can be used like a debit card to pay for groceries. Kind of hard to “distribute” boxes in that same way. And I find it hard to believe that door-to-door delivery is a) efficient and b) actually going to save money.
Instead, it will likely require recipients to travel to a distribution center. Taking hours away from the work day and potentially adding the cost of transportation to an already tight federal budget.
Call me an optimist, but I think if we really wanted to conquer hunger, there are better ways to do it. Some states have started edible food forests to help produce food for needy families. Some cities are seeing a growth in urban farming, cutting down on distribution time and costs, and there are plenty of non-profit farms working to add fresh fruits and vegetables to the diets of our poorest Americans.
I’d much rather see our government working to support these ideas instead of boxing up cans of corn and jars of peanut butter.
For our military families, this is yet another reason why we have to keep our commissaries open. How many more military families will find themselves simply unable to buy the things they need if the savings offered on base are taken away?