SNAP/EBT or America’s Harvest Box?

Well, here’s a plan that has been shown to work for decades: the SNAP/EBT program. About 38 million people receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including low-income families, senior citizens and some who live in our rural areas. In today’s blog though, I’ll be taking a look into the proposed plan to cut SNAP benefits and its implications.

I’ve written before about the U.S.D.A. Commodities program and diabetes, about how the amount of empty carbs and sugary foods provided to reservation communities has led to a notably higher rate of diabetes among Native people. Well, the currently proposed “budget saving” plan – known as “America’s Harvest Box” – is only a new take on the existing government food box plan that, while alleviating hunger for families, leaves them wanting in terms of variety of foods and actual nutrition.

As a child I experienced the benefits of “commods” — two boxes of food per month, usually filled with pasta, powdered eggs, canned spam, rice, beans, boxed milk and maybe some Gatorade, if we were lucky. Oh, and the cheese (still some of the best mac ‘n cheese ever made)! But these definitely lack the fresh, healthy, whole foods and items such as those used in Blue Apron meals.

Yet in the Harvest Box announcement, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney likened the Harvest Box to a Blue Apron type program. In recent months, I’ve tried food delivery services like Blue Apron in an attempt to bring better food into my college life and I’ll say this: there is absolutely no comparison in the items. And trying to promote them as the same creates a false interest for those who won’t actually dig into the details.

What’s more, how does a 10-dollar minimum food delivery service save budget over an average cost of two dollars per meal for SNAP? In some cases, the Harvest Box program would cut up to half of SNAP/EBT benefits, not only taking away the possibility of more nutritious food choices, but subjecting families to the health impacts that have already been observed from these boxes. SNAP eligibility criteria would also be altered, adding new guidelines that would disqualify many families in need and for other families reduce the help received.

In my personal opinion, trying to save money by introducing a mix of lower quality foods is simply saving for the short-term while adding to health care costs in the long-term. In fact, this new proposal has been in testing groups for years and shows food boxes to have long-term health impacts. Whether they have even been shown to provide an adequate amount of food to families based on volume and portions is unclear. Maybe if the Harvest Boxes provided better food items, the program would help families, though in its current state, I simply see another commodity plan looking to save money.

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