Millions of families in the U.S. rely on SNAP to help them put food on the table. How will the proposed changes to the program impact them?

By Lisa Milbrand
February 15, 2018
Credit: Jonathan Weiss /

The Trump administration just released their proposed budget for the next few years, looking for ways to cut spending to offset the $1.5 trillion tax cut. Funding was increased for military and for the wall, to be offset by cuts to "safety net" programs that help the elderly and the poor—$554 billion in cuts to Medicare, which provides healthcare for seniors; a massive $1.4 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies, and $200 billion to SNAP.

As part of that $200 billion cut in SNAP funding (AKA food stamps), Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has proposed providing "Harvest Boxes" with shelf-stable milk, canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, and pasta in lieu of shopping for yourself, in a move he's billing as a "Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash." But those who help provide food programs for the poor say that implementing this program could bring a whole new set of logistical issues that they haven't yet provided detail around—such as what would happen if your family has food allergies or health issues that would make some of the Harvest Box unable to be eaten, or if they live in substandard housing that doesn't offer access to a real kitchen to cook that pasta. Even getting the boxes to those who need them could be a huge logistical challenge, whether it's getting a box to a disabled person in a rural area—or finding a time to deliver the box to a family with adults working double shifts.

But experts expect that the Harvest Boxes may just be there for "show," to encourage the government to make steeper cuts to programs for the poor. "I don't think there's really any support for their box plan. And, I worry that it's a distraction from the budget's proposal to cut SNAP by some 30 percent. That's the real battle," said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive Washington think tank, in an interview with the New York Times.

The more likely change? It will be putting even stricter work guidelines into play in exchange for their food stamps. However, the majority of those who receive SNAP benefits are already working, elderly, children, or they are disabled and unable to work. In fact, 71 percent of families with kids who receive SNAP have at least one working adult—often working in the food industry. Researchers from the University of Berkeley found that more than half of those who work in fast food restaurants rely on programs like SNAP to provide meals to their families.

The budget proposal is just an opening salvo—but the cuts may happen. And if they do, many who currently rely on SNAP—including 20 percent of those in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia—may struggle even more to keep their families fed. "This isn't a handout or a luxury to me — we would literally not survive without benefits," Cathy Winfrey, a 33-year-old mother in Reston, Virginia, told the Washington Post about her SNAP benefits, that supplement her small income. "We would have nowhere to live. I would go into debt trying to buy food for my children."

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