Yet again, some of the United States’ most vulnerable citizens are being targeted. The Trump administration proposed a change to the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would eliminate much of the program’s recipients’ ability to choose what food they can purchase.
But aside from depleting SNAP recipients’ autonomy, something else gets depleted — their dignity.
The full proposal suggests that instead of the current system, in which recipients are given their benefit money on an electronic benefit transfer card to buy food that fits within the guidelines, the government would distribute “America’s Harvest Boxes” to Americans who receive at least $90 per month — which is over 80 percent of recipients — through the program. These packages would contain “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.”
The idea of the U.S. government distributing such a volume of food to roughly 38 million people is a logistical nightmare. How will the food be distributed? Will it be like the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides senior citizens who have an annual income below $16,000 with monthly food boxes, forcing recipients to travel to some location like a food bank to receive their benefits? This would mean that recipients who have no reliable means of transportation — a problem common for low-income people — would have difficulty receiving their benefits, especially in rural areas.
Or would the government ship boxes to recipients? This begs a series of questions that appeared in the New Yorker: “How, exactly, will this Administration — which recently contracted with a desperately inept company to deliver millions of pre-made meals to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, only to withdraw the contract after almost none of the meals were delivered — actually get these boxes of food to millions of households? Or to recipients who move frequently, or end up temporarily homeless? What if the food is stolen or delayed?”
Transportation issues aside, sending out identical food boxes to millions of people does not account for food allergies or other dietary restrictions, differences in food preparation ability within families, especially in regard to cultural food differences.
Why are we doing this? Perhaps because there’s an awful myth that SNAP recipients are lazy, don’t work to better their lives and are using their benefits to splurge on luxurious steak and lobster dinners.
For one, this is the breakdown of food stamp recipients for the 2016 fiscal year: 44 percent were children, 12 percent were seniors and 11 percent were nonelderly people with disabilities. Most SNAP recipients who can work, do work. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than half of SNAP households with at least one able-bodied adult work while while receiving SNAP, and more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP. Additionally, the program requires most childless adults to work, and in some states, parents must work.
Let’s call it like it is. There’s something more glaring that this proposal suggests: Poor people cannot be trusted to make their own food decisions. Those in favor of Trump’s proposal accuse SNAP recipients of being unable to make what they deem to be acceptable food selections. For some reason, people cannot stand the idea of low-income parents buying their kids simple luxuries like chips or ice cream. It’s unfathomable that a poor person be allowed to have shrimp in their pasta, or buy a cake for a birthday.
Simply put, SNAP recipients buy what they want, which typically includes what they need. Why do we keep pretending that they’re not competent enough to prioritize the necessities? If they want to use a portion of their benefits for a comfort food, which may be the only delicacy they can treat themselves to once a week, let them.
Nobody using SNAP benefits is living a life of luxury. Most of them are working and feeding children; others cannot work and SNAP is the reason they aren’t starving. Let’s not take away low-income families’ simple comforts, dignity and autonomy.
Binghamton University sits in an area with a higher-than-average poverty rate. In most cases, students are extremely privileged compared to the citizens of the area. When you talk about how lazy and pathetic SNAP recipients are, you may be talking about the guy in front of you in line at the grocery store, the family of the fellow BU student behind you or the cashier checking you out. Regardless of how far Trump’s proposal goes, we need to destigmatize the use of food stamps anyway.
Sarah Molano is a junior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law.