Critics Hit Trump's Food Program Plan as 'Devastating' to Maryland

WASHINGTON (Feb. 23, 2018)—President Donald Trump's budget proposal for fiscal 2019 includes an overhaul of a supplemental food assistance program for low-income people that could affect nearly 750,000 Marylanders.

Many in the state's predominantly Democratic congressional delegation are attacking the White House plan, which envisions replacing the current program with a "Blue Apron"-style delivery program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, originally established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, is "our nation's first line of defense against hunger for millions of low-income families and their children," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland.

"The president's budget proposal to significantly cut the SNAP program would have a devastating impact on Maryland," said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson. "One in eight Marylanders relies on the SNAP program, and gutting it would threaten the nutrition and food security of more than 744,000 Maryland residents—including many children and the elderly."

Almost half of the Maryland residents in the food and nutrition program are under the age of 18. In 2017, the average SNAP recipient across the United States "received about $126 a month," or just $4.20 per day, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said those SNAP recipients "will be negatively impacted" by the Trump proposal.

"And for what? To provide a windfall tax break to big corporations and millionaires," the senator said. "That is simply wrong and I will fight this reverse Robin Hood policy."

Under federal law, households must meet a number of requirements in order to be eligible for SNAP, although there are exceptions for elderly and disabled individuals.

In the program's current iteration, recipients receive money loaded onto debit cards they can use to purchase food. SNAP recipients can purchase breads, fruits, meats, and other regulated foods with their benefits, but cannot purchase tobacco products, alcohol, or nonfood items, such as pet foods or paper products.

Under Trump's proposal, the SNAP program would get a significant makeover.

Instead of allowing SNAP recipients to purchase their own food, the USDA would deliver prepackaged goods, similar to the way "Blue Apron" gourmet-style boxed food is delivered.

Roughly 80 percent of all SNAP recipients would receive about half of their benefits as these food packages, containing "shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables," but no fresh fruits or vegetables, according to the budget proposal.

"The president's proposal to create a government-controlled food delivery program for SNAP participants would not only create a logistical nightmare for the USDA, but also ignore the health and nutritional needs of program recipients," Sarbanes said, referencing the lack of fresh food in the prepackaged boxes.

The White House Office of Management and Budget's claim that Trump's proposal amounts to "dramatic reductions in the regulatory burden on…individual freedom" flies in the face of original SNAP objectives - to "focus on moving people into self-sufficient lives," according to the Brookings Institution.

The food program beneficiaries "should have the same ability to choose fresh vegetables, fruits and dairy as other Marylanders," Cardin said. "Struggling families should not have to choose between healthy staples and paying bills.

"As with much of his budget, President Trump's (USDA food) box idea will never become reality," the senator added.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, agreed with Cardin, saying "the administration's plan to replace some benefits with a so-called 'food box' is not only inefficient and deeply patronizing, but would be particularly unworkable in the rural areas of the Fifth District."

"The budget proposed by President Trump for fiscal year 2019 is nothing short of cruel to the most vulnerable in our state," Hoyer said. "Not only does the proposal severely slash funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but it proposes substantial cuts to critical benefits for families in Maryland. This reckless and irresponsible budget must be rejected outright."

"At a time when more than 50 million Americans face the threat of food insecurity, it is more important than ever that we ensure critical programs like SNAP are properly funded and efficiently delivered," said Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac.

The Trump administration claims the proposed budget would reduce the overall cost of SNAP by $129 billion over the next decade, saving an average of $12.9 billion per year.

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