Trump has proposed a budget today which will result in over $200 million dollars in cuts to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Instead of being able to go to a grocery store and use an EBT card for all of their purchases, recipients of the program will receive boxes of food prepared by the government as half of their food allotment.
According to the Trump Administration, these food boxes will consist of "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruit and vegetables." Office Management and budget Director, Mick Mulvaney asserted that: “It…makes sure that they’re getting nutritious food.”
People are, understandably, concerned that these changes will negatively affect SNAP recipients. Some have wondered how the new program would package boxes for people with food allergies, religious diets, health issues, and other dietary concerns. Canned fruits and vegetables don’t contain the same nutrients as fresh fruits and vegetables. Certain carbohydrates will be useless for some recipients. People with celiac disease, for example, cannot eat gluten because it damages their intestinal lining. People with cardiac concerns have to avoid eating too much salt. People with diabetes should avoid eating empty carbohydrates and have to follow a specialized diet. How will the government create meals for these people? Will items in the food box go to waste if people don’t or can’t eat it?
Other people have expressed concern that the government is overstepping its boundaries. When Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, proposed a healthy eating program for schools that would cut out a lot of the junk food and empty calories that children are eating during lunch, people were outraged that the government would dare to change school meal plans. After decrying big government, how can the current Administration make the case that they can limit food choices for people across the nation?
Aside from logistical concerns, there is a concern that the well-being of people using assistance programs is not being considered. Whenever the discussion of welfare arises, there are always people who mock the character of those who are in need of assistance programs. Unfortunately, these people are not only social media trolls but also community leaders who seem to believe that most people who are welfare recipients are people of poor character or are trying to bilk everyone out of money. The “Welfare Queens” of the Reagan era come to mind- the derogatory picture that the Republicans painted of welfare recipients at the time, in which the “so-called poor” would take advantage of social assistance programs and live a life of leisure while driving Cadillacs. This “Welfare Queen” myth had the dual effect of alienating welfare recipients and inciting hatred towards welfare users.
Over 4 decades later, comments about this program change were indicative of the dismissive attitude that some still have towards the poor. “If you want better food, get a job,” a few people said. Unfortunately, some people have jobs and still can’t afford life’s necessities- these people have been called “the working poor.” Others might have illnesses- both physical and mental- which impede their ability to sustain gainful employment. Other people might be elderly and unable to work. Some people are children and live in low-income households. Some of the people who are being villainized for their use of public assistance programs once fought for our country in the military.
Many people are of the mindset that others are undeserving of their care, but they forget that most people, in the event of illness or job termination, would be poor or homeless probably within two or three months without the assistance of others. We can turn up our noses all we want and try to pretend that other people are deserving of their poverty or misfortune because of some kind of character flaw or egregious sin, but people needing public assistance are not deserving of scorn. They are us. And we should treat everyone in this country with dignity, regardless of their annual income. The Trump Administration should keep this in mind as they formulate any changes to food and other assistance programs.