by Ben Cohen
According to Politico, anti-hunger advocates initially believed that the Trump administration’s new idea to replace food stamps with boxes of tinned food was “a joke”. And if you look at the specifics of the proposal, it isn’t difficult to see why those close to the problem of hunger in America are appalled by it:
Kevin Concannon, who oversaw SNAP during the Obama administration, was aghast when he saw the proposal.
“Holy mackerel,” said Concannon, who said it reminded him of when poor people had to line up and wait for local officials to dole out food and other welfare benefits. “I don’t know where this came from, but I suspect that the folks when they were drawing it up were also watching silent movies.”
As part of the budget that Trump proposed on Monday that almost exclusively targets the poorest Americans, along with horrifying cuts to public health insurance and federal housing vouchers, the president is aiming to slash billions of dollars from food stamps by introducing one of the most idiotic ideas ever conceived. Reported the Washington Post:
Under the full-scale redesign, the Agriculture Department would use a portion of those benefits to buy and deliver a package of U.S.-grown commodities — officially dubbed “America’s Harvest Box” — to recipients, using the government’s buying power to lower costs.
The deliveries of government-purchased foods would account for roughly half of the benefits for the vast majority of SNAP households.
The foods in the deliveries would include shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned meat, fruits and vegetables, according to USDA. The department estimates that it could supply these goods at roughly half the cost of retail, slashing the cost of SNAP while still feeding the hungry.
For anyone vaguely familiar with basic nutrition, canned meats, fruits and vegetable do not constitute food. Study after study has shown that processed, preserved meats are linked with far greater rates of cancer, and canned fruits and veg often contain additives, salt and other preservatives that are particularly unhealthy. While there is some debate over the nutritional benefit of canned fruit and veg, it is highly unlikely that a program based around saving the federal government as much money as possible will look for the highest quality products.
The USDA already does an atrocious job of feeding school children in America, so much so, that the country is facing national health care crisis, so why the Trump administration believes they can be held responsible for feeding people unable to earn enough money to pay for food beggars belief. Never mind the fact that a one size fits all approach to feeding millions of people is completely unworkable given wildly varying dietary requirements, food allergies, and family size, it is yet another humiliation for the working poor in America who already contend with an economic system that actively works against them. Not only is an already degrading system being put on the chopping board, it is being replaced with what can only be described as a delivery dog food program. Poor Americans are now so reviled and so distrusted that they can only receive food in tins to feed their families.
The Trump administration’s plan to feed poor Americans has nothing to do with wanting to feed poor Americans — it is about pandering to their wealthy base and showing middle Americans that they are going to crack the whip on the so-called lazy. Republicans have long believed that the poor in America are poor because they lack the discipline to work hard and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. Disregarding the fact that America has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the Western world, conservatives are bound by an economic ideology that insists wealth is a matter of hard work and nothing else. The brutal capitalistic ideology shunned by almost every other advanced industrial nation produces more equality, more social mobility, and far, far less poverty. Yet Republicans refuse to acknowledge the realities of the American economic system that provides huge government relief and protection for the rich, while subjecting the rest of the population to dog-eat-dog existence where only the strong can survive.
Never has this dichotomy been expressed more clearly than with the Trump administration. Trump rode into Washington claiming it would “drain the swamp” and create a society with better opportunities for the poor, less favors for the rich, and health care for all. Predictably, not only did this turn out to be a mountain of bullshit, the Trump administration quickly set about stacking government with corporate shills and viciously going to war on the poor. They attempted to wreck Obamacare, drain as much money as it could from government programs designed to make people’s lives more tolerable, and pass math-free tax cuts for the rich so big that they were less popular than previous tax hikes. If it isn’t clear where the Trump administration’s loyalties lie, then you are either willfully ignorant or, well, just plain ignorant. The tinned food plan for the poor is not only a stark reminder of their allegiance to the rich, but of just how cruel this government can be. They cut without thinking, create new programs without thinking, and take no responsibility the outcome ever.
Thankfully this program will almost certainly never see the light of day as no one appears to be taking it seriously. It does however, gives tremendous insight into the type of decision making that goes on in the White House and the ideas they are entertaining. The USDA doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to keeping the nation healthy, so to entrust them further with a program that isn’t logistically feasibly is a recipe for disaster. This apparently did not occur to Trump or any of the people around him who seemed to think that gimmicks can replace real policies, and money can be saved by simply cutting programs without finding anything sensible to make up the difference.
Regardless of whether the canned food program gets implemented, the budget cuts to vital assistance programs are coming in one form or another. The poor must be braced for the worst, and as we’ve seen time and time again with this administration, there will be no one to pick up the pieces until Trump and the Republicans are removed from office.