March 6, 2018
By: Richard M. Blau, Chair, Food Law Industry Team
The current administration in Washington D.C. recently asked Congress to appropriate $30 million to test the “America’s Harvest Boxes” program in a “small number” of states. Under the program, about 16 million low-income families who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “Food Stamps,” would receive approximately half as much money to spend on food as the SNAP program allotted them in the past. The deducted benefits would be replaced by a government-issued box of “shelf-stable” food products such as peanut butter, canned goods (including meat), pasta, cereal, “shelf stable” milk and other products.
If such a program was instituted nationally, the resulting changes would be seismic. SNAP enrollment reached a peak of 47.8 million recipients in 2012, before edging down to 42.2 million in 20.9 million households during FY 2017, according to federal estimates. In 2017, the SNAP program helped approximately one in eight Americans buy groceries at a cost of $68.1 billion. Under the proposed plan, households (which can include multiple recipients) that receive more than $90 in SNAP benefits each month, i.e., roughly 81 percent of households in the program or about 16.4 million families, would be affected.
Critics are expressing concern that the contents of the Harvest Boxes would include some of the least nutritious food available, most of which are heavily processed and/or produced with pesticides. While SNAP recipients currently are able to use their benefits for purchases of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry from grocery stores, the Harvest Boxes would contain unhealthier, packaged alternatives. Additional concerns have been voiced that sending boxes with the same foods to millions of SNAP recipients with no regard for tastes, medical conditions or cultural customs would create undue hardships for families with medical, religious or other dietary restrictions. Read the full article on GrayRobinson's Food Law website.