Since the release of the 2019 Trump budget, a great deal of attention has focused on its proposal to eliminate half of families’ food assistance benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and replace them with a monthly box of nonperishable foods.
Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney has falsely equated the idea with Blue Apron, a service that provides fresh foods customizable to clients’ tastes and diets, conveniently delivered to their doorsteps (meals this week include Salmon & Dukkah-Spiced Vegetables)–a far cry from the shelf-stable and standardized food allotment outlined in the budget (e.g. boxed milk, peanut butter, and canned meat and vegetables), which provides families with no control over their food choices and had no concrete plans for distribution.
However, there are real consequences to the ideas surrounding the program.
This proposal represents a broader, targeted attack intended to erode critical programs on which millions of low-income Americans rely to meet their basic needs, and contributes to the stigmatization and shaming of low-income Americans seeking support.
GOP lawmakers and the Trump administration have recently proposed significant cuts and structural changes to programs that Americans count on to feed, clothe, house, and provide medical care for their families. For example, while the food boxes program will likely not gain traction, there is cause for concern for other changes to SNAP. Trump’s budget outlines funding cuts of $213.5 billion, or about 30 percent, over the next decade. These cuts could mean less food for four million low-income people.
Threats to SNAP do not end with funding—the budget also proposes substantial changes to program policies. SNAP benefits would be capped at a household size of six, meaning large families won’t receive enough benefits for every member.
Policymakers have a history of disciplining women for their fertility with family caps. Harmful changes to welfare policy in 1996 included a provision that allowed states to deny additional income supports for low-income families who had babies while receiving assistance. The goal was to reduce the size of poor women’s families. Not only did those caps fail to reduce birth rates—they were associated with more families living in deep poverty. In recent years, several states have recognized that such caps are harmful to low-income families and have begun repealing them. These caps are ironic given GOP proposals to limit access to contraception and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s admonition for Americans to have more children to contribute to funding Medicare and Social Security.
Another troubling policy change would punish people who are working in low-wage jobs. Even small increases to low earnings can disqualify people under strict SNAP thresholds, leaving families unable to meet their expenses but ineligible for benefits. This is phenomenon known as the “cliff effect.”
Fortunately, states have the option to obtain waivers for these thresholds. These waivers allow states to increase the income cutoffs for SNAP eligibility to avoid cliff effects. Trump’s budget, however, would eliminate states’ ability to obtain these waivers. In addition, states will no longer be able to waive harsh, three-month time limits on SNAP benefits for unemployed or underemployed childless adults, even when those individuals are looking for work or live in areas with high unemployment rates. These waivers have been critical for communities facing economic decline or natural disasters.
Trump’s proposal would also increase the age limit on time limits from 49 to 62, meaning more older adults will be cut off from food assistance. The proposal also sets out to cut benefits for 2 million people who receive the smallest amount of food stamps each month, known as the “minimum benefit.” Most recipients of the minimum benefit are seniors and people with disabilities.
SNAP provides nutrition assistance for about 40 million low-income individuals each month. In 2016, it lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty and it has been demonstrated to significantly reduce the prevalence of extremely poor households (those living on $2 or less per person, per day).
Two-third of SNAP benefits go to children, seniors, and people with disabilities. The program is a critical source of support for individuals with low-wage jobs, those who are involuntary part-time workers (workers who would prefer to work full time), and workers with unpredictable and/or irregular schedules.
Low-income individuals who receive SNAP report they are healthier than those who do not participate in the program and they have lower annual health care costs.
SNAP is particularly crucial for children’s immediate and long-term wellbeing. SNAP use among pregnant mothers has been associated with improved birth outcomes, such as increased birth weight for babies, especially for African Americans.
Girls who benefit from federal nutrition assistance programs experience greater economic self-sufficiency in adulthood. Restricting and cutting these benefits, meanwhile, stands to harm low-income children and families. For example, research has demonstrated that when young children lose SNAP benefits, they are more likely to experience worse health, to be at risk for developmental delays, and to go without necessary health care.
Cutting funding and access to this crucial source of nutrition, perhaps the most basic human need, will not allow families to get ahead.
Moreover, the cruel, half-hearted proposal to remove access to fresh produce and curtail families’ choices at the grocery store through a supplemental food distribution choice is not a realistic policy choice—it simply serves to stigmatize and shame people in need, portraying them as “undeserving.”
Government programs that help families afford the basics are fundamental to Americans’ health, safety, general well being and long-term success. By curtailing access to these programs, we deny the dignity of the people who need them most.