A Dumb Idea

Kudos for trying to change the program, but this is a dumb idea that would empower future Presidencies in the wrong way.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney deserves enormous credit for doing something that has long been needed. He wants to reform the food stamp program in America. The program has waste, fraud, and abuse issues. It is not terribly efficient. There are people in the program who do not necessarily need to be there. So hats off to Mick Mulvaney for undertaking the thankless job of reform.

The problem is not that Mulvaney undertook reform, but what the proposed White House solution to the food stamp program is. They want to send food stamp recipients boxes of food each month. Mulvaney describes it as a “Blue Apron” style program.

For those unfamiliar with Blue Apron and its competitors like Hello Fresh (disclosure: I am a Blue Apron customer and love it), they are programs where a company sends you food each week with recipes. As an example, I recently received a box containing a recipe for soy glazed chicken. The box contained all the ingredients necessary to make the meal as well as a very nice recipe card with step by step directions.

Each week, prior to the food shipment, I can go online, select the recipes I want for the week, and end the week with a box containing enough for two different meals to feed four people. The programs work around food allergies, variable meal sizes for large or small families, as well as the number of meals one might want each week. I do two meals a week for a family of four.

This is the program the White House suggests will save the government money. The savings will, in part, come from buying food in bulk that the government will then package and ship. That last part is where it all begins to fall apart.

I have a hard time believing former Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) would ever support the program being proposed by himself now in the role as White House Budget Director. In fact, when Mulvaney was in Congress his Republican colleagues were criticizing the Obama White House for altering the school lunch program. It is really hard to believe that people who want to privatize the post office are suddenly fans of the government boxing up and shipping foods to people. Why not outsource it to the private sector and let existing companies bid?

Lest we forget, the federal government ran headlong into a disaster setting up the Obamacare website that crashed repeatedly and had to be reworked. How, other than a website, would they let the poor set up their schedules, preferences, allergies, etc? And who would be responsible for managing those preferences? What liability would the federal government have when the family with peanut allergies reacts because of cross contamination?

Beyond those issues, if Republicans do this they are setting themselves up for future attacks should the federal government ever shut down. An army of reporters will jump at the chance to cover poor people who have not received their boxes of food due to a shutdown. The Republicans will be accused of literally starving people.

The whole idea also sounds ripe for abuse. The program would only use American goods and produce. Which farms would be selected to provide the produce? Which vendors would be allowed into the program? How long before a future administration decided a cereal manufacturer had not made enough campaign contributions and so would be excluded? This system would be asking for fraud, mismanagement, and abuse in a way sending money to an EBT card does not. It introduces a greater human element susceptible to coercion and corruption.

A boxed food program sounds more command and control Soviet than it does American. One need only a little imagination to see how a future administration would determine Americans need more Brussels sprouts, so that goes in the box. “Eat it or starve,” the commissar would bark.

There is an alternative. The government could do what it does now. It puts money on EBT cards for the poor who then get to engage in the very American concept of choosing their own food. Further restrict locations for EBT usage and root out waste, fraud, and abuse.

Want to reform the system? Do not allow soda, candy and snack food purchases using food stamps, but include hygienic products such as bath soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.

I agree that shipping boxes of food is a bad idea. However, having people go to a location and pick up boxes on non perishable food is a reasonable idea. Then allow them the card to go to a store for non perishable, non junk food items.

The kicker is that they didn't include the cost of shipping the boxes in the calculation for saving.

This seemed like a pet project of someone that they threw in to cut a few million off the budget. Not a seriously considered or rigorously planned out idea.

I would support this idea for cities where you have a closely packed population who is impoverished and don't have access to local organic stores.

How about just give poor people money and let them use it however they want? Why are we treating poor citizens like children? Incapable of looking out for themselves?

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Benjamin, we already ARE giving out money in the form of EBT cartds and there is apparently plenty of proof that the system is being abused. When there is money involved you can be certain that there will be those who scam the system. So the question is: How do we help people who are truly needy, yet also eliminate those who are abusing the system? The EBT system was supposed to eliminate the sale of food stamps, but there are people who have figured how to get cash with an EBT card, and there are those who enable them to do so. It is discouraging, especially for those who are working but barely making it financially, to have our dollars go to those who are scamming the system, and no end in sight.

first off, I agree this is a dumb idea and someone was obviously just looking for somewhere they could cut $1 million out of the budget. Benjamin, you ask "why are we treating poor citizens like children?" the answer to that is because they are dependents who are unable or incapable of feeding themselves. sound like children to me. As with all government programs, this is rife with abuse (especially by the providers who have a vested interest in letting people buy whatever they want on the EBT cards and simply lie on their registers calling everything "food"). It seems to me we need to reign in where people can use EBT cards. I know the arguments will be that it is "too restrictive." Guess what? People need to be responsible for themselves like the rest of us suckers who work for a living and are not having children that we cannot afford to feed. The idea that we should feed people and give them carte blanche with no restrictions is ridiculous. I have seen many people complaining that they see people using EBT cards that have better vehicles, covered in jewelry with the the latest fashions while they are actually working and are eating hot dogs and macaroni and cheese in their 10-year old beater car. THAT is what is "unfair."

The issue being addressed is fraud in the system (folks selling their EBT for cash and/or drugs), inefficiency (government doesn't use its economy of scale to its benefit), and ineffectiveness (recipients do not use the cards wisely inasmuch as those who need healthy food the most choose tasty, but woefully unhealthy, junk food). The Blue Apron approach fixes all - but would probably be even more inefficient and expensive. So how can we fix the system. First EBT cards should have a photo ID on them. If it's your card, your face better be on it. That will make it pretty hard to transfer it to someone else. The food that it can be used should be more limited (it already excludes alcohol and cigarettes). This limit does not have to be draconian (brussel sprouts for breakfast) but does have to encourage healthy choices. The government could ship non-perishable can goods directly to the recipient but this is undoubtedly expensive. Instead, grocery stores could place a sticker on "EBT Good" foods. If a recipient buys those, they'll get a bigger bang for their EBT dollar - an EBT discount based on volume. EBT fraud would be reduced, folks would be naturally steered toward better foods. The population gets healthier, obesity goes down, and brain function rises with better fuel. Fewer people need EBT and Medicaid costs decrease because the population is healthier. The budget deficit shrinks and the economy booms.

To point out the obvious, they are on food stamps precisely because they cannot look out for themselves. That is not to say that everyone on food stamps is at fault. Things happen that put people in bad situations. We need to help those in need. I would have preferred that charity had been left to the Church and other private, voluntary charities and not through the force of the government, but the Church and other private charities failed to do an adequate job and allowed the government to take that roll in the 30s, so that is an old and irrelevant argument at this point. I definitely oppose the government doing the boxing and shipping. That is a disaster. If this is going to be done, it should be done through private companies. I think a better idea is some of those mentioned above. Add a photo on them. Restrict non-nutritious foods from purchase, such as junk foods. These offer very little nutritional value. The purpose is to supplement the diet of people who cannot afford to feed themselves and their families, so that money should be going into nutritious foods. It is ultimately a game of diversion. SNAP isn't designed to cover all of the food needs, so many would buy the qualifying food with SNAP and then just buy the junk food with their other money, like they currently do with beer and cigarettes (go to Walmart and you will see it all the time). The WIC programs seems to have a much better handle on quality foods. I think copying a form of that model would be good. Maybe have a few changes since SNAP isn't as specific of a group, but the model could be easily replicated.

How about just end the program? It is not a Constitutional government responsibility anyway.