When President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress slammed through their $1.5 trillion tax plan, we and other critics predicted that cuts to safety net programs were soon to come.
Sure enough, now Trump wants to slash spending in programs for the poor and elderly, including Medicaid and Medicare, to give a gusher of money to the Pentagon, as well as offset the tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
One proposal in Trump’s proposed budget deserves special scorn.
The administration proposes to reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion in 2019, or about 22 percent, and more than $213 billion over the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.
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About 42 million Americans receive an average of $125 a month in benefits, which they get through a debit card that is accepted at grocery stores. In California, where the program is called CalFresh, there are nearly 4.3 million recipients; 51 percent are children and 7 percent seniors 60 or older. Households get an average of $281 a month, supplementing monthly income of $707, says the California Budget & Policy Center.
Adding insult to injury, the White House thinks it can cut costs even more by buying and delivering a box of basic foods, including juice, cereal, pasta, peanut butter, beans, milk that doesn’t need refrigeration and canned meats, fruits and vegetables. Right, because poor folks need canned government green beans with their government cheese. For most families, “America’s Harvest Box” would be about half their total benefits.
Principled conservatives in Congress, who have complained for years about the “nanny state,” should be up in arms. Besides, there are already restrictions on what families can buy with food stamps – no beer, wine or liquor; no cigarettes or tobacco; no household supplies such as soap or paper towels; and no vitamins or medicines.
Advocacy groups quickly blasted the idea as fundamentally unfair, and the grocery industry immediately pointed out the costly and logistical nightmare of somehow delivering all those boxes.
Just to add a condescending touch, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney compared the plan to Blue Apron, the upscale meal delivery service, as if all Americans even know what that is.
One Californian who is particularly peeved is Joe Sanberg, a founding investor in Blue Apron who is also leading the nonprofit CalEITC4Me campaign helping more families claim the earned income tax credit.
“ ‘America’s Harvest Box’ is an Orwellian name for a program that would slash the safety net for millions of struggling families, treating people like numbers in a spreadsheet instead of human beings,” Sanberg said in a statement. “SNAP isn’t broken; along with the earned income tax credit, it is one of the most effective programs we have for fighting poverty, precisely because it puts power and … human dignity in the hands of the recipient.”
He’s spot on. If California’s representatives in Congress care at all about their most vulnerable constituents, they’ll deliver this idea straight to the trash.