Of the many mean-spirited, heartless and nasty ways the new Trump budget proposes to cut assistance to the poor, needy and elderly, the idea of replacing much of the SNAP program of food stamps with a box of packaged foods called America’s Harvest Box may well be the stupidest, cruelest and among the most arrogant of all.
Only two months after the Republicans passed a tax bill to put billions into the pockets of the super-rich and big corporations, the petty bureaucrats want to cut $129 million over the coming decade from the 40-year-old program that provides food assistance to about 42 million low income Americans by sending a box full of peanut butter, cereal, canned fruits and canned meats instead of a monthly supplement of about $125.
The brainchild of Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue, this idea has floated around Republican think tanks for years before being embraced by Trump and his compassion-free, number-crunching numbskull budget director Mick Mulvaney who compared the boxes of food to the Blue Apron service that delivers fresh food, meat and produce to about one million customers.
Perdue, a multi-millionaire former governor of Georgia, called his plan “a bold, innovative approach” that would provide the same “level of food value” as the current SNAP system where people get to choose what they want at the local grocery (with some restrictions such as no alcohol, tobacco or prepared foods), while saving the taxpayers lots of money.
However, Perdue’s incorrectly-named idea would not actually be America’s harvest because it would not contain any fresh meat, real vegetables, cold milk, actual fresh fruits or vegetables in a Blue Apron box, since that would be too complicated, require rapid delivery and cost a great deal more than the humble handout the cheeseburger-munching Chief Executive and his rich cronies are proposing for America’s poorest, neediest and most vulnerable citizens.
Perdue’s plan would not even include actual door to door delivery of the package. That would be left to states to figure out, and to bear the potentially enormous cost and logistical challenges of getting the boxes to inner cities, suburbs and rural areas.
To be clear, the projected savings for the federal government does not include the cost of delivery, which almost certainly would not be done with Fed Ex or in the style of Amazon.
The Perdue plan projects the federal government buying the food at half the present cost by making bulk deals with specific providers, who could be farmers or distributors or others.
It is unclear who under a plan the USDA would administer would then can, package, prepare the food, and deliver it to one or more distribution centers in each state.
It is also unclear how the feds and states would determine how many members of a household to serve, or whether there will be a sensitivity to food allergies (such as a child allergic to peanuts), dietary restrictions (would active adults and seniors with coronary conditions and diabetes get the same box) or even religious restrictions (such as a kosher family or a Muslim family that does not eat pork). And we won’t even venture a guess how it would deal with vegetarians.
While this plan is buried deep in Trump’s huge budget plan, it has immediately drawn fire from many quarters, including current SNAP participants, advocates for the poor and especially the current food distribution system from wholesales to transporters to supermarkets who stand to lose billions in business.
“Holy mackerel,” Kevin Concannon, who oversaw SNAP under President Obama, told Politico, saying he was aghast, and that it reminded him of when poor people had to line up and wait for local officials to dole out food and welfare benefits.
“I don’t know where this came from,” said Concannon, “but I suspect that the folks when they were drawing it up, were also watching silent movies.”
Comparing it to wartime rationing or soup lines in the Great Depression, the non-profit Food Research and Action Center called it “a Rube-Goldberg designed system” that would be “costly, inefficient, stigmatizing, and prone to failure.”
Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer for the Food Marketing Institute, which represents major retailers like Kroger, Albertsons, and Walmart, said the proposed plan would be inefficient.
She said grocery retailers have worked with the USDA and Congress over many years “to achieve a national system, utilizing existing commercial infrastructure and technology to achieve the greatest efficiency, availability and lowest cost.”
“Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account,” added Hatcher, “but based on our decades of experience in the program, it owuld increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings.”
It is not just Kroger and Wegmans that would take the hit, points out Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, which advocates for rural areas, but also to mom and pop stores in areas outside big cities where there are few supermarkets.
“This action would not only destabilize attempts to bring more healthy, fresh foods into the homes of America’s food insecure,” said Rasmussen, according to Politico, “but would keep dollars out of local grocery stores and farmers markets, which are critical assets to all communities.”
This bizarre scheme to take fresh food out of the mouths of those who need it most is only one of the ways the Trump budget proposes to hurt needy people including cuts in housing subsidies for low income families, elminating grants that help poor people buy homes, and of course severe cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, as well as continuing efforts to sabotage and destroy ObamaCare.
This all speaks to the arrogance of a rich president and his cabinet full of millionaires and billionaires, and the big money campaign donors like the Koch brothers, whose company is among the worst polluters in the world while making enormous profits.
None of these people would ever want to exist on a box with canned meats, peanut butter and canned fruits in sugary syrup, while being denied fresh foods, but they see it as their duty to “save the taxpayers money” – meaning save themselves and their rich friends money so that they can have bigger homes, buy bigger yachts and fly subsidized private planes.
“This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans – and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations,” Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the Washington Post. “It doesn’t reflect the right values.”
At a time one percent of Americans make more than most of the rest of Americans combined, this is a wealthy, powerful few thumbing their noses at the poor, the needy, the elderly and pretty much everyone else who they don’t rub elbows with at the country club.
The reality is the only box Trump will ever eat out of is a Happy Meal delivered from the local McDonalds, complete with a greasy cheeseburger, fries, coca cola and a toy to keep his childish mind occupied while he watches three giant TV screens, tweets his lies and phones his rich buddies to complain Democrats interfering with his ghastly plans to pummel the poor, the immigrants, the sick and the homeless again and again.
It would never strike him that his CEO buddies who make 200 times per hour what a grocery store clerk earns are there because of the income inequality in our society that acts like cancer making the body politic sick, and setting the stage for future social and civil problems that even the rich behind gates will not be able to ignore.