These days, electronic cards called E.B.T.s, which can be used like credit cards at checkout, eliminate the awkward process of fumbling with booklets. But that doesn’t make it any less painful to be so poor that you need help paying for food. Being poor means getting shamed and criticized for each minor decision you make, both by politicians and your neighbors standing in line behind you at the grocery store.
Federal guidelines already dictate what can and cannot be purchased with food stamps, yet poor people are subjected to endless commentary and condemnation from cable news pundits to Facebook friends over their grocery selections. Are they picking items with enough nutrition? Are they choosing products that are more expensive, or more enjoyable, than they deserve?
Americans of all income levels occasionally make food choices that aren’t the healthiest or most economical, but it’s the poor — who often have few other ways to indulge themselves and their children — who are judged most harshly when they do so.
As a result, poor people are constantly required to explain their circumstances, and justify their every choice. This is especially true for parents who must rely on social programs to feed their children. The proposed Harvest Box further reinforces the notion that low-income parents can’t be trusted to determine what’s best for their own children. The implication is that wiser authority figures should dictate what these families should and can eat.
It’s hard to imagine that many of the people who create or oversee these programs have any actual experience with poverty. This lack of insight into the real lives of poor people leads those in charge to come up with ideas that are ridiculously impractical, unrealistic and even laughable.
They’re as out of touch as celebrities who’ve tried to do the “food stamp challenge” — surviving for a week or a month on the food they can buy with an amount equal to the benefits poor people receive — and end up blowing their entire budget on limes and black licorice. I’m curious how what should go into these prearranged packages would be determined. I also want to know what accommodations will be made for those with food allergies or dietary restrictions.
Until recently, my mother was eligible for a similar monthly food package as part of a program for the elderly. Transportation issues made it difficult for her to even pick up these boxes, but when she did get them, she ended up giving away at least half the items because they were foods doctors told her not to eat or that she simply didn’t like.
Harvest Boxes would inevitably lead to significant waste for similar reasons. I’ve heard this proposed model compared with popular services like Blue Apron or Fresh Direct (services that I, as a working-class person, have never used because they are way too expensive). But the only thing the Trump proposal has in common with these services, which wealthy people use to expand rather than limit their dining choices, is the box. Beyond that, I cannot even imagine the logistics involved with trying to manage a food-package program of this magnitude — and given the Trump administration’s disappointing record when it came to delivering meals in post-hurricane Puerto Rico, I’m not at all hopeful that the quality of the food would be as promised or that people who need it would actually receive it.
Assessing the SNAP system to identify ways to improve efficiency and reduce fraud is a good thing. But making a major change that deprives low-income people of much of the already limited control they have over one of the most basic elements of their daily existence is not only cruel, it is a recipe for huge waste.Continue reading the main story
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