Harvest Box – Return to Sender!
President Trump’s 2019 budget proposes significant alterations to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which could result in an estimated eligibility cut for at least 4 million people, and reduce program funding by $213 billion over the next ten years. As described in a previous Clark-Fox Policy Institute policy brief, SNAP plays a critical role in lifting children and families out of poverty and ameliorating the harmful effects of food insecurity. More than 42 million Americans receive SNAP assistance, the majority of whom are children, elderly, or people with disabilities. Despite well-documented success, the program often finds itself fending off attacks to reduce its budget and its impact.
The 2019 budget proposal replaces more than 40% of SNAP benefits with “Harvest Box”, a program that would send shelf-stable food directly to low-income families rather than providing funds to help families buy groceries. Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, described the plan as a “Blue Apron-type program”. Blue Apron is a direct to home gourmet food and recipe delivery service. It is unlikely that the Harvest Box would reflect the quality and nutritional value of a gourmet delivery service. Even if the food comes directly from American farmers, the expense for logistics and administration would most likely far exceed the costs of the current SNAP program.
SNAP is a critical support system for poverty-impacted families and according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, is the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program. A recent study by Mary M. McKay, Dean of the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, found that SNAP participation played a significant role in promoting better academic outcomes for children experiencing nutritional deprivation, particularly in lowering the risk of repeating a grade. SNAP participation is also linked to improved health and lower health care costs.
Though the proposed “Harvest Box” is a radical departure from the current SNAP program, it is not an entirely unique model of federal food distribution. In the late 1970’s the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began distributing nonperishable foods to American Indian reservations and nearby rural areas as part of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Additionally, in the early 1980’s surplus cheese purchased by the government from farmers was distributed to low-income families. Both programs had questionable results. Government cheese is no longer distributed and advocates arepushing for the discontinuation of the reservation distribution program in favor of a program more closely aligned with SNAP.
The proposed changes to SNAP run the risk of undoing decades’ worth of effective anti-hunger programming. Gary Parker, director of the Clark-Fox Policy Institute stated, “SNAP supports nearly 42 million families each year. Years of empirical research has demonstrated its success in reducing food insecurity among children and families. Harvest Box is ill-conceived and should be shipped out to sea.”
Caplan, E., Parker, G., Thurman, A. (2018). Harvest Box: Return to Sender. St. Louis, MO: The Clark-Fox Policy Institute, Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.