WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration has proposed fundamental changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, in the fiscal 2019 federal budget.
Under the proposal, SNAP recipients who currently receive at least $90 per month through the program would instead receive about half of their benefits as a foods package that has been compared to meal kits, in which customers make their own meals with the ingredients provided. The package would include items such as "shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables." Fresh fruits and vegetables would not be included. The remainder of their benefit would go on the SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card for use at approved grocery retailers, according to the proposal.
The proposal also includes giving individual states "substantial flexibility" surrounding the delivery process, meaning that each state could transport the boxes to recipients differently.
If the details in this proposal were to become reality, SNAP benefits redeemed at stores—including convenience stores—would plummet. The proposal would affect just more than 80% of all SNAP recipients, according to a National Public Radio (NPR) report. SNAP benefits accounted for about $66.5 billion in sales at stores in 2016, which includes c-stores, big-box stores, supermarkets, specialty stores and farmers markets, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
While only about 6% of those benefits were used at c-stores in 2016, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the amount this move would cost the convenience petroleum industry could still be in the billions if implemented as the proposal stipulates. Meanwhile, this proposal and other changes proposed for SNAP would reduce the SNAP budget by $213 billion over the next 10 years, cutting the program by almost 30%, according to the Trump administration.
Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Chief Public Policy Officer Jennifer Hatcher said the budget proposal "certainly makes major changes, but not changes that SNAP-authorized food retailers see as positive or even efficient."
“Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account, but based on our decades of experience in the program, it would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings," she said. "As the private [sector] partners with the government ensuring efficient redemption of SNAP benefits, retailers are looking to the administration to reduce red tape and regulations, not increase them with proposals such as this one.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue defended the proposal, which he called a “bold, innovative approach,” in a statement to The Hill. “It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program and is responsible to the taxpayers,” Perdue told the news outlet.
Critics say that the proposed system restricts choice and logistically complicates SNAP. "They have managed to propose nearly the impossible, taking over $200 billion worth of food from low-income Americans while increasing bureaucracy and reducing choices," Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, told NPR.
SNAP uses about 80% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget. About 44 million Americans receive SNAP benefits each month.