The Trump administration is now proposing cutting back on food stamps for low-income households and providing deliveries of packaged food instead. It’s a step in the wrong direction.
The most basic flaw with the plan is that it takes the decision-making power about food away from the recipients of the aid, even though they are in the best position to know what will work for them and their families.
Tastes, schedules, cooking abilities, individual nutritional needs, cultural traditions, access to working stove-tops, pathological phobias of broccoli — these are things that vary significantly from person to person and change regularly as people age, seasons change, and life happens. Two of my kids had severe rice allergies when they were toddlers. They grew out of the reactions, and now our shelves are weighed down with huge bags of basmati. Bureaucrats can’t know, let alone keep on top of, such details about 16 million households. But it’s bureaucrats who will be selecting the foods these households receive, which is bound to lead to more waste and frustration.
If it were just a matter of aid recipients having less agency over the social assistance they receive, the change might still be justified on the paternalistic grounds that it will lead to more nutritious diets for the poor, and the fiscal responsibility point that it will save the government a lot of money.
The trouble is that neither of these arguments is an obvious winner, despite the White House’s assumptions.
Junk food addicts who get delivered an “America’s Harvest Box” (as the packages are to be called) full of canned beans and pasta will simply reallocate the remaining half of their food-stamp budget, along with any money left in their wallets, to buy the soda and chips they crave. As sin taxes have long demonstrated, people don’t just magically drop unhealthy consumption, and modify deeply ingrained habits, when costs increase.
A sign in a store window advertises the acceptance of food stamps on Oct. 7, 2010, in New York City.
And speaking of costs, let’s talk about this suggestion from the Trump administration that delivering Harvest Boxes would save a great deal of money because the government’s buying power would give them access to food prices lower than what consumers pay for retail. For all I know, they’re right that there would be meaningful savings, but they seem to have forgotten about the significant added costs.
The logistics and money necessary to …read more