Trump Calls for Privatizing Food Stamps

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

Buried deep in Trump's budget proposal for fiscal 2019 is a section that calls for converting the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or "food stamps," into a program that delivers food to the poor rather than gives them money to buy food.

Under the proposal, which was announced Monday, low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month — just over 80 percent of all SNAP recipients — would get about half of their benefits in the form of a "USDA Foods package." The package was described in the budget as consisting of "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables." The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.

Currently, SNAP beneficiaries get money loaded onto an EBT card they can use to buy what they want as long as it falls under the guidelines. The administration says the move is a "cost-effective approach" with "no loss in food benefits to participants."

Many people expressing their opinions about this right now have focused on the inhumanity of the proposal. Indeed, my own initial reaction was that Trump is calling for establishing the ultimate "nanny state" that not only tells people what they're allowed it eat, it even delivers it to them.

After thinking about it overnight, however, I believe the economic implications are far bigger. They're also the reason why Congress will never go for this.

For example, if the USDA delivers a box of canned food to your door, who decides what goes in the box? Who decides which corporations are allowed to put something in the box? Who will assemble the box? Who will deliver it?

The food stamp program is one of the most fiscally stimulative programs the government has, resulting in nearly $1.70 in economic activity for every one dollar spent on the program. In fact, the program was originally created to subsidize the agricultural industry and it still fulfills that mission today while also feeding the poor.

If only a small number of corporations or producers are selected to contribute to Trump's food box through what amounts to a private subsidy, what happens to the rest of the agricultural industry? What happens when industries in one senator's state are shut out while industries in another senator's state are contracted for the box?

If local residents receive a box of food at their door, what happens to the local groceries that depend on the business generated by food stamp recipients who would ordinarily shop in their store?

The Trump regime may describe this as a "cost-effective approach" but if you think this sounds cheaper than simply letting people buy their own food, you don't know how anything works. The overhead, administrative cost of operating this program, including packaging and shipping, would almost certainly be higher than the cost of the food itself.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney compared Trump's food box proposal to meal kits delivered by Blue Apron, but that's an insult to Blue Apron. Blue Apron actually delivers fresh fruits and vegetables in cold boxes; Trump is calling for delivering cans of creamed corn and Popeye Spinach to your door.

Industry lobbyists are probably already burning up the phones in Congress to whip against Trump's proposal and, at least in this case, I have to agree with the lobbyists.

  • katanahamon

    Another bad idea..tip “pooling.” After one already bad idea, allowing employers to pay servers less than the minimum wage because they get tips, now employers (like Rump, a hotel/restaurant owner) want another way to screw employees. They want to skim the tip pool. This is wrong..either charge enough for the meal that all employees are compensated fairly and eliminate tipping (which is really the best answer) or hands off the tips. If you are allowed to pay servers 2.13 an hour, it’s despicable to try to steal their tips. It’s true that servers can make quite a bit more than dishwashers and line cooks, so really the whole allowing employers to get away with paying sub minimum wages is wrong. It certainly won’t ever be an issue that managers or owners share their bonuses…

  • katanahamon

    This is why every business Rump touched withered and died. Not only is this proposal not an improvement, it removes money spent on food and gives it to packaging, overhead administration, and delivery costs. This is an attempt to take a charitable program and turn it into a money making deal for the administrators of the program, and decrease the actual value for the intended recipient. It’s cruel, inefficient, and an obvious attempt to flush this program down the toilet. Much like every policy proposal thus far.

  • Aynwrong

    Where does the food and food boxes

  • Draxiar

    This proposal is based off of the myth that people are using snap cards to buy exotic expensive foods and weed.

    • katanahamon

      Yeah, hardly any heroin dealers accept the card..

  • Yeah, the idea that setting up this complicated delivery system would save money over the usual adding funds to a debit card is ludicrous. And the rest of your points are also excellent. What a crock.

  • Badgerite

    Crony capitalism. We’ve already seen how this works (see doesn’t work) in Puerto Rico. Some idiot who is politically connected will make a small fortune off of a government contract that they have no business getting and everyone else will suffer including the economy as a whole.

  • Ellen Kuhlmann

    luckily the agriculture lobby will be against this proposal as well.

  • Georgie
  • muselet

    Conservatives only a few years ago were howling that poor people not only got government handouts, they actually had refrigerators! and microwave ovens! in their homes, and practically had a meltdown when someone at a DC-area shelter took a photo of Michelle Obama with a cellphone!

    The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.

    No surprise, that. Converting SNAP into corporate welfare is not about some nebulous cost effectiveness, it’s about making nutritional assistance so unpleasant that people would decline to participate.

    The Trump administration’s proposed budget is disgusting, cruel and entirely consistent with the conservative id.


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  • Username1016

    And, like, yuck? Canned vegetables taste lousy and are full of sodium. Canned fruits taste lousy and are full of sugar. What if your kid hates creamed corn — or is allergic to peanuts? What if you’re a vegetarian and they keep making with the cans of Spam? And what the hell even IS “shelf-stable milk”?

    Stop. Punishing. The. Poor.

    • muselet

      Shelf-stable milk is common in much of the world, espectially where domestic refrigeration is rare. It’s unadulterated milk, it’s just in aseptic packaging like the large cartons of stock you can find in the soup aisle of the supermarket (Tetra Brik is the commonest kind of package).

      As for the rest, you’re spot-on.


    • JMAshby

      I actually like Popeye spinach quite a lot.

      Shelf-stable milk is ultra pasteurized milk that doesn’t have to be refrigerated until it’s opened.

    • Username1016

      My grandmother used to get government-issue cheese back in the ’80s. As I recall, it was disgusting.