The Harvest Box: Another Bad Idea from the Trump Administration

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration released their budget for FY 2019. As expected, the budget proposed massive cuts to key anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid, Social Security, housing programs, and SNAP. And, as is typical for this administration, it has tried to disguise some of these harmful cuts as “reforms” or even “improvements.” 

For example, the budget includes what the Secretary of Agriculture has called a “bold, innovative” change to the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), called the “American Harvest Box.” The box would include prepackaged food that is meant to replace a portion of SNAP benefits, which currently come in the form of an electronic benefits card.  The foods include shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meats, and canned fruits and vegetables.  Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, referred to the box as “one of the most innovative things… a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash.” This proposal to revamp SNAP is another recent example of the ways in which the Trump administration is attacking anti-poverty programs.

The Harvest Box, as it has been proposed, is neither innovative nor welcome. The suggested foods to be included in the box do not parallel the vast options that are available to families through their local grocery stores, which are designed to meet the needs of their community and offer specialty products that cater to cultural and taste preferences, as well as religious needs. The Harvest Box severely limits family choice and completely disregards the needs of people with dietary restrictions.

In addition to taking away families’ ability to choose what they want to eat, the Harvest Box announcement did not include a plan to actually get the food to SNAP recipients. Delivering the boxes will likely be expensive and keeping up with addresses and delivery instruction could quickly become a logistical nightmare. Having pickup locations can make it more difficult to access benefits for families that do not have cars or access to public transportation and folks that work odd hours. The Harvest Box would create a problem for which we already have a solution. As Deborah Weinstein from the Coalition of Human Needs stated, “We have an existing food delivery system and it’s called supermarkets and grocery stores.”

Mulvaney’s comparison of the proposed box to Blue Apron is laughable at best.  A Blue Apron subscription for a family of four cost about $10.00 per person per meal while SNAP spends, on average, $1.40 per person per meal. This gap in cost is reflected in the products each of these services provides. Blue Apron is meant to expand access to healthy and fresh food options; the Harvest Box limits these options. Blue Apron also gives consumers lots of choices around the meals to include in their subscriptions each week as well as the option to skip a week—so if you choose to not get a box of food from Blue Apron one week, you still have access to the cash you would have spent on the subscription. Clearly Blue Apron is not what this administration really has in mind.

SNAP and other anti-poverty programs keep millions of families from falling into poverty while providing families with choices, not taking them away. The Trump administration on the other hand wants to decide what people eat and how they access their food—the very opposite of the small government approach conservatives advocate for. Families are the experts on what they need to stay healthy and ultimately survive. This proposal and other stealth attacks on anti-poverty programs, undermine that expertise. Families know best how to meet their basic needs. Not only should we trust them to do so, but we should respect their dignity to make such decisions for themselves.

This administration’s ill-advised attack on anti-poverty programs demonstrates their obvious disregard for the health and livelihood of low income people, especially women and children. If our administration wants “innovative” programs, they should start allocating more funding to anti-poverty programs like SNAP and stop creating tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. No one asked for the Harvest Box and this proposal is an embarrassing reminder that our administration’s priorities do not include women and families.