In February, the Trump Administration released its proposed FY 2019 Budget. The budget would reduce support for mandatory and discretionary spending on domestic programs, while boosting spending on military and immigration enforcement. President Trump is proposing a 30% cut to nutrition programs including SNAP and WIC, a total cut of $213.5 billion over 10 years. It will restructure how benefits are given and will reduce eligibility for millions of Americans. This is especially relevant since SNAP benefits 44 million people each month. At one point, the average monthly benefit for SNAP recipients was $133.85, which has gone down to $125.79 per person in recent years. The proposed cuts would decrease that further. Other cost-cutting strategies include restricting time-limit waivers, capping benefits to large households, eliminating SNAP nutrition education, eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and raise the age for those eligible for work requirement related time limits from 49 to 62. See also Jan Poppendieck’s post on federal food assistance policy.
A major area of criticism for the proposed cuts and restructuring of SNAP is the proposal to establish government –purchased non-perishable food boxes. The Trump Administration suggests sending SNAP recipients who receive more than $90 a month in benefits a standardized box of food to their homes, instead of having people purchase food in stores using their EBT card. The “Blue Apron – type program,” touted by the Administration as a cost-effective approach, would be a partial replacement of the benefits received currently. However, the strategy for how the boxes would get delivered is still unclear. This restructuring also ignores the cost-saving partnerships SNAP has in place with many retail stores. In addition, this strategy would oppose the overall purpose of SNAP, which is to provide food assistance “through normal channels of trade.”
The pre-selected choice of foods would include shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish. Many people were quick to oppose this kind of restructuring of the program since it removes choice and personal responsibility, thereby taking away people’s right to feed their families in their own way. Aside from the logistical and moral concerns, the standardized food packages will not meet the individualized nutrition needs of families in regards to medical conditions, allergies, and food preferences. This new method of providing food to participants does not have the intended effect of improving nutrition and diet. The boxes offer less of what many nutrition education programs place a major emphasis on: fresh produce. Providing canned foods and pasta and cereal would undermine the efforts to provide incentives and education on the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
SNAP participants already have to engage in a tradeoff between food and other basic needs like housing and childcare. Many people living in poverty end up spending what is left of their income on calorically dense foods that are processed, high in sodium, and low on essential nutrients – and inexpensive. This is where the major misconception about food insecurity in this country comes in. Food insecurity in America does not look the same as it does in some low-income countries. Many people opposed to government assistance programs like SNAP and WIC may have the pre-conceived notion that people who experience hunger should look thin and emaciated. However, in this country food insecure people are often obese and malnourished.
When it comes to WIC, the cuts are less drastic, but impactful nonetheless. The proposed budget will allocate a net funding of $5.54 billion. The funding for this program has also been decreasing, much like SNAP. The FY 2017 allocated $6.35 billion to the program, while the projected amount for the FY 2018 is $6.15 billion. Notably, program evaluation and monitoring is facing a $10 million cut. Despite these cuts and loss in evaluation of programs, the National WIC Association estimates that it will be able to meet caseload needs under this budget plan, but the NWA is concerned about other programs WIC families depend on, such as SNAP. Frankly, the proposed budget cuts and cost-cutting strategies for the SNAP program are a great cause of concern for many Americans. Though the budget as it stands is not likely to pass, the direction of the Administration regarding food assistance programs is worrisome. Proposals that attack the SNAP and WIC programs are harmful because they reduce support and create more stigma for the participants.
By Paola Duarte, Dietetic Intern, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy
1. Beckwith, RT. “Donald Trump Railed About a Food Stamp ‘Crime Wave’ in 2011. Now He Wants to Cut SNAP.” Time. Website http://time.com/5155778/donald-trump-food-stamps-cuts/. February 13, 2018.
2. Goodkind, N. “Trump’s Food Stamps Will Leave More Americans Hungry” Newsweek. Website http://www.newsweek.com/trump-food-stamps-snap-hunger-815327. February 22, 2018.
3. Hunzinger, E., Charles, D., Godoy, M., Aubrey, A. “Trump Administration Wants to Decide What Food SNAP Recipients Will Get.” NPR. Website https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/02/12/585130274/trump-administration-wants-to-decide-what-food-snap-recipients-will-get. February 12, 2018.
4. Rosenbaum, D., Dean, S., Bolen, E., Wolkomir, E., Keith-Jennings, B., Nchako, C. “President’s Budget Would Cut Assistance for Millions and Radically Restructure SNAP” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Website https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/presidents-budget-would-cut-food-assistance-for-millions-and-radically. February 15, 2018.
5. Washington Update: Trump FY 2019 Budget Requests Funding for WIC to “Serve All Projected Participants” National WIC Association. Website https://www.nwica.org/blog/washington-update-trump-fy-2019-budget-requests-funding-for-wic-to-serve-all-projected-participants#.WuZZYJOpkWo. February 12, 2018.