The Deep Entitlement State immediately dismissed President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the government provide a food box to replace a portion—not all—of the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Actually, the idea has merit and should be considered, at least as a state-based pilot program.
About 44 million people participated in SNAP in 2016, at a cost to taxpayers of about $71 billion. And while that number is down from its peak of 47.6 million in 2013, it’s twice the previous peak. [See the graph.]
One expects the number of food stamp recipients to rise in a recession and decline during a recovery, but the number of SNAP recipients grew steadily throughout the 2000s, even when the economy was doing well. Then it exploded during the Obama administration—big surprise there!—and has never really returned to its non-recession lows.
Trump’s proposal might address some of the current problems with the program. Here’s why.
It means taxpayers are paying for healthy food. A common complaint is that people using food stamps—usually an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card now instead of stamps—buy high-fat, high-calorie food such as ice cream, chips and cookies, all of which are allowed under current policy.
Low-income families have a much higher incidence of obesity than higher-income families. It may not be that they eat too much, just not enough lower-calorie healthy foods. Trump’s plan would provide a food box of American-produced canned meats, fruits and vegetables, cereals, pastas and peanut butter—referred to as a “USDA Foods Package.”
Thus, Trump’s proposal attempts to ensure that at least part of their diet includes wholesome food and that taxpayers weren’t paying for useless calories.
It helps address the problem of food deserts. Low-income communities point out they often don’t have grocery stores in their areas where people can buy healthy food and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Trump proposal doesn’t solve that problem, but it does bring healthy food to the community. It doesn’t include fresh fruits and vegetables, at least not yet. But a state demo-project might try that option.
It encourages people to move off of welfare. Welfare should be a safety net, not a hammock—otherwise, people who could and should leave may not. Trump’s proposal imposes limits on the current program flexibility by meeting recipients’ food needs, not necessarily all of their food wants. It’s a subtle encouragement to leave the program if and when they can.
There aren’t many details to Trump’s proposal, which is fine. States should be free to embrace the concept with variations. But at least the president has proposed an interesting, and perhaps important, change that might dramatically reform the food stamp program.