February 14, 2018

Trump’s Blue Apron

Why “Blue Apron” for Food Stamps will never work

by Chris Thomas

Photo by Anne Preble

President Trump wants to replace the Food Stamp program, which provides food aid to the poor in the form of debit cards, with a “Blue Apron” style program which provides a box of government-approved foodstuffs. The proposal echos conservative criticism of the SNAP (or Food Stamp) program which often cites anecdotal evidence of fraud and abuse. The conservative narrative is that SNAP benefits are being used to buy “luxury” food items.

This is often conflated with “fraud” though it’s not the same thing. Food Stamp benefits are a flat dollar amount that works out to about $1.40 per recipient per meal. Buying steak with that isn’t fraud; it just means you don’t eat for the rest of the month. It’s also how the free market works. The premise behind market efficiency is that consumers — even food stamp recipients — know better how to efficiently manage their money than the government does.

President Trump’s suggestion that the program would be better off if it moved to a “box of food” style of distribution suggests a fundamental ignorance of the program and of how actual people buy actual food.

Why this will never work

Americans are a vast and varied lot. On $1.40/person/meal, the US government would have to develop food-boxes which….

  • Provide adequate nutrition to those without funds to spend anything more on food
  • Provide options for Americans with food intolerances including milk, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, gluten, corn, soy, beef, pork, lamb, etc
  • Provide alternatives for Americans who, for religious reasons, are unable to consume pork (Jewish, Muslim), beef (Hindu), or a laundry list of other foods.
  • Provide a distribution network which brings boxes within an acceptable distance of every American.
  • Provide low carb options for Americans with diabetees or other blood-sugar issues
  • Provide low sodium options for Americans with high blood pressure or heart disease risk factors

And the list goes on and on. These are herculean logistical problems and they’re solved, nearly for free, by the market. The objection to the above is easy to anticipate: “sure, like Food Stamp recipients are eating such a responsible diet right now.”

But that doesn’t matter. Right now Food Stamp recipients are choosing what to buy with their SNAP benefits and the responsibility of that choice lies with them. The moment the government steps in and takes that choice away from them it also owns the responsibilities that go along with that choice.

If Mr Trump thinks he can distribute healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate meals to Americans of all races, creeds, and traditions in all 50 states for less than $1.40 a meal I’m sure the folks at Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or Plated would be interested to learn how.

Their plans start at ~$9.00 a meal.

Tell Congress What You Think

Of course the real intent here is to cut social safety net programs like SNAP in order to finance more tax breaks for Wall Street. If you’d rather see your tax dollars go to hungry kids rather than fat-cat bankers, you can write to your Representatives and Senators by texting RESIST to 50409. Or, if SMS isn’t yous style, you can contact your government by talking to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or Twitter.

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