A controversy is brewing over a Trump administration idea that would limit food purchases by food stamp recipients but save the federal program billions of dollars.
The administration is considering replacing some of a food stamp recipient's benefits with a box of American-produced food. The so-called "America's Harvest Box" would contain items such as shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables.
The box would be valued at about half of the SNAP recipient's monthly benefit and recipients would get the remainder of their benefits on their electronic benefit cards.
"I think it has merit for at least discussion," responds Dr. Merrill Matthews of The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI). He says the current SNAP program allows recipients to choose from a wide selection of food.
"But the bad thing is," he continues, "they're allowed to buy ice cream, cookies, candy, soft drinks and a whole range of things that just simply don't add to the diet."
The idea proposed by the Trump administration, says Matthews, attempts to control the spending and improve the healthy food choices.
USDA says the proposal would save $129.2 billion over the ten-year period from 2019 to 2028, an estimate that accounts for about $2.5 billion annually in additional administrative funds for states.
Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told CNN that the plan amounts to a risky plan that threatens to leave families without food because of their limited choices.
CNN itself suggested SNAP recipients may also have trouble picking a box if they don't own an automobile.
"This actually improves people's chances of getting high quality food," Matthews counters. "One of the problems that low-income communities have had for a while is there is no grocery store for them to go in and buy a range of different high-quality foods."