White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney on Monday hailed the idea as one that kept up with the modern era, calling it a “Blue Apron-type program.” The idea was to not only save money for the government but provide more nutritious food, in theory. The proposal was hidden in the 2019 White House fiscal budget. It would replace about half the money that families get from food stamps and replace it with what the Department of Agriculture is calling “America’s Harvest Box.” That package would be made up of “100 percent U.S. grown and produced food” and would include items like shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal.
There are issues with this and Mulvaney’s comparison. Fresh items like produce or meat won’t be included in the boxes, as they perish quickly and would raise shipping costs. Asked about how the delivery would work, USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh clarified that states would “have flexibility” in how they choose to distribute the food to SNAP recipients.
Kevin Concannon, who oversaw SNAP during the Obama administration, was stunned at the news. “Holy mackerel,” said Concannon, who said it reminded him of when poor people had to line up and wait for local officials to dole out food and other welfare benefits. “I don’t know where this came from, but I suspect that the folks when they were drawing it up were also watching silent movies.” The Food Research and Action Center, a prominent nonprofit group, called the harvest box idea “a Rube-Goldberg designed system” that would be “costly, inefficient, stigmatizing, and prone to failure.”
There are also economic concerns, as many grocery stores use food stamps as a crucial portion of their profits. “This action would not only destabilize attempts to bring more healthy, fresh foods into the homes of America’s food insecure, but would keep dollars out of local grocery stores and farmers markets, which are critical assets to all communities,” said Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, a progressive rural advocacy group.