Editorial: Meals stamps are a wholesome discount

Among the numerous harebrained ideas in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal this week, one stands out as especially pernicious: a scheme that would slash an essential anti-poverty program and put fresh food further out of reach for 46 million low-income people, or one in seven Americans.

The Trump administration wants to cut the budget of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly known as food stamps, by nearly 30 percent over a decade. It plans to accomplish this by giving low-income families boxes of pasta, cereal and other nonperishable foods, rather than giving them the full amount of their benefit on electronic cards, as the SNAP program works today. Those cards can be used at about 260,000 retail stores and farmers markets nationwide to buy a wide range of fresh and packaged food, allowing recipients to shop with their families’ preferences and dietary needs in mind.

The administration argues that its proposal, which also would make it harder for adults living without children or other dependents to benefit from the program if they aren’t employed, is ‘‘designed to improve nutrition and target benefits to those who need them, while ensuring careful stewardship of taxpayers’ money.’’

If Trump and his aides actually cared about improving nutrition and the lives of low-income Americans, they would be trying to put more money into SNAP, not less. The program has done a heroic job of reducing poverty and improving the lives of millions of people. Studies have found that the program’s beneficiaries are less likely to report not having enough to eat. They are also less likely to take sick days and are shown to spend less on health care compared with similar people who do not benefit from the program. Further, children who grow up in families enrolled in SNAP are more likely to graduate from high school and be economically self-sufficient as adults.

Right-wing ideologues in the Trump administration seem to consider SNAP a wasteful welfare program that needs to be brought to heel. In reality, the program is a relative bargain that provides fairly modest benefits to some of the poorest people in the country.

The government spent about $70 billion on SNAP in 2017, less than 2 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget. The average beneficiary gets $126 a month. The people who are helped by the program tend to have very low incomes, are retired or have disabilities. A family of three generally has to earn less than $26,600 a year to qualify.

Trump’s proposal for slashing SNAP and introducing food boxes comes just as Congress is working on a new farm bill, which lawmakers have to pass before the end of September, when authorizations for food stamps and other agricultural programs are scheduled to end. Several Republican lawmakers have said they are unlikely to get on board with the administration’s retrograde ideas. That’s good. But given how far members of Congress have gone to do Trump’s bidding in the past year, it won’t be a complete relief until lawmakers vote to keep the program going without cuts.

— The New York Times

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