The Trump administration's plan for revamping food stamps

The Trump administration is promoting a new plan to replace a portion of food stamp benefits with boxes of actual food. The idea is that this would be more efficient, but the proposal is already being labeled mean by some on the left. From NBC News:

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters on Monday about the plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to redesign the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program as “America’s Harvest Box.” Under the plan, more than 16 million households would have half of their benefits go toward the food box delivery program.

“What we do is propose that, for folks who are on food stamps — part, not all — part of their benefits come in the actual sort of — and I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright — but a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash,” Mulvaney said…

The proposed budget, released Monday, would gut SNAP benefits by $17.2 billion in 2019, about 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year. USDA claims the new plan would save $129.2 billion over 10 years.

“It lowers the cost to us because we can buy prices at wholesale, whereas they have to buy it at retail,” Mulvaney said. “It also makes sure that they’re getting nutritious food. So we’re pretty excited about that. That’s a tremendous cost savings.”

A USDA press release for the program reads in part:

The amount of food received per household would be scaled to the overall size of the household’s SNAP allotment, ultimately representing about half of their benefits. SNAP participants would receive domestically-sourced and produced food in lieu of a portion of their SNAP benefits.

The proposal is already coming under attack from the left. Stacy Dean from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells CNN, “It’s a risky scheme that threatens families’ ability to put food on the table.” Another group compared the proposal to soup lines. From Politico:

Kevin Concannon, who oversaw SNAP during the Obama administration, was aghast when he saw the proposal.

“Holy mackerel,” said Concannon, who said it reminded him of when poor people had to line up and wait for local officials to dole out food and other welfare benefits. “I don’t know where this came from, but I suspect that the folks when they were drawing it up were also watching silent movies.”

Other anti-hunger advocates said the concept was reminiscent of wartime rations or soup lines during the Great Depression. The Food Research and Action Center, a prominent nonprofit group, called the harvest box idea “a Rube-Goldberg designed system” that would be “costly, inefficient, stigmatizing, and prone to failure.”

Writing for the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik called it mean and dumb:

Now comes President Trump, with the meanest and dumbest approach to food stamps in recent memory…

The mystery is where the food-box idea even came from, because it’s cartoonishly mean-spirited, complicated and costly to administer, and utterly unnecessary. One imagines people such as Mulvaney and Perdue stalking the halls of the White House and the USDA in a stupor, their brains filled with incoherent ideas about how to make the lives of Americans worse.

This is how the defense of the welfare state always sounds. Any proposal to change or reduce the cost of an existing program is portrayed a vicious assault on the needy recipients by cruel vulgarians taking pleasure in making people suffer. That simple, cartoon version of reality seems to be the one playing in Michael Hiltzik’s head and he’s not alone. Even the Onion is going after the plan: