Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Reading about SNAP makes me snap...

There will not be any fresh beef in any USDA "food box"...

Or fresh salad...

Nor will there be any lobster for those "welfare queens"...

Yesterday, I became aware of Donald Trump's latest bid to "Make America Great Again".  I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that he's going after the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), popularly referred to as "food stamps".  While I don't actually believe Trump is a real conservative, he's chosen to embrace the relentless attack on food assistance that Republicans are so concerned about lately.

In Trump's case, I don't think it's about being fiscally responsible or even helping poor people eat foods that are better for them, which I notice some Republicans claim is the real basis for their attack on SNAP.  They say they "care" about poor people's diets and don't want to see them eating rich, sugary foods that will make them sick.

Trump lacks the humanity to even try to frame his support for this program in that way.  I think Trump simply thinks of poor people as "losers" who should get whatever scraps the government deigns to give them, shut up, and be grateful.  Trump does not care about poor people or even the middle class white voters who put him in office.  He cares about wealthy people who can make him richer and more powerful.  And apparently, many people still haven't gotten the memo that he doesn't give a fuck about them and won't help them should they ever fall on hard times.

Donald Trump and his cronies propose to change the SNAP program radically by deciding what food recipients will get.  Basically, he wants to replace the EBT cards currently being used with USDA produced "food kits" which include canned produce and meat, peanut butter, shelf stable milk, juice, cereals, pasta, beans, and the like.  Part of the the SNAP beneficiary's benefits would come in actual food, rather than money on the EBT card that would allow them to choose for themselves what they want to buy.

Right now, SNAP participants are allowed to buy pretty much whatever food they want, as long as it falls under federal guidelines.  Trump wants to take most of that freedom of choice away, claiming that the food kits will save the government money and provide "healthy" (simple carb heavy) foods to needy people. Carbs keep people nice and compliant, don'tcha know?

Now... I have had food provided by the USDA.  My family did not get government aid when I was growing up, but I did used to work as the cook at a summer camp that did get food provided by the government.  I seem to recall that some of it also used to be sold in military commissaries and my mom would occasionally buy it.  It's not horrible quality.  However, based on what I've read about Trump's proposal, these kits will not take into account individual needs of consumers.

When I mention "individual needs", I don't just mean personal preferences, although I do think preferences are important.  I mean considerations like whether or not the recipients are in situations that would allow them to prepare the foods provided for them.  For instance, a bag of dry beans might be great if you have the means to soak and cook them properly.  Not everyone receiving federal aid has access to a kitchen.  Not everyone receiving federal aid is physically able to prepare a pot of beans.  Some people getting those SNAP benefits are sick or disabled and need to be able to buy food that is easy to prepare.  Some might have allergies or religious considerations that affect their diets.  Moreover, if a person can't or doesn't want to eat dry beans and simply throws out the bag, then that's a waste.

This program also seems like it would create more bureaucracy and be both expensive and logistically difficult to run.  Essentially, it's a "big government" solution, which seems to fly in the face of the "small government" and "personal choice" mantra most Republicans claim they want.  Moreover, I just think it's unkind and delivers unnecessary humiliation to people who are struggling financially.  Poor people don't necessarily need anyone's help choosing food for themselves.  A person can be perfectly intelligent and still fall on hard times through no fault of their own.  SNAP benefits are generally provided on a temporary basis and require participants to regularly prove that they have a need for them.  And frankly, the fact that someone is getting SNAP benefits is no one else's business.  

I initially read about this program on the National Public Radio's Web site.  Thankfully, I didn't read any comments at that time.  I was pissed enough about Trump's disgusting and hypocritical proposal. I might be more impressed by Trump's desire to pare down the money spent on poor people if he weren't such a hideous drain on taxpayer funds himself.  But this is a man who thinks nothing of forcing taxpayers to pay for the security details required for his wife, Melania, and son, Barron, when they stayed in New York City last year instead of moving directly to the White House.  This is a man who regularly goes to his own golf retreats, requiring security details to accompany him.  Taxpayers are paying for him to golf!  And they are paying for his entourage... who put money back in Trump's pocket when they stay at his hotels.

Anyway, last night, right before I went to sleep, I noticed that the newspaper I have read my whole life ran an article about Trump's new food stamp plan.  There was a picture of fresh fruits and vegetables above it.  Looking closer at the picture, I noticed the produce came from Blue Apron, a "meal kit" service much like Hello Fresh.  Bill and I used the German version of Hello Fresh for a couple of years, so I am familiar with the concept.  Basically, you order these kits from a company and they come stocked with everything you'd need to make meals.  Recipe cards are included.  It's not clear if the USDA plans to provide recipes for the people who would be receiving their version of food kits.  My guess is that the beneficiaries will be on their own.

In the article I read last night, the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was quoted thusly:

It's like Blue Apron?  Really?

Okay... so first off, what I read in NPR's article indicated that those "USDA boxes" would not contain fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats.  It's all canned, shelf-stable food, some of which may not be appropriate for everyone.  People who pay for Hello Fresh or Blue Apron are generally getting fresh, high quality ingredients.  The Daily Press article indicated that Blue Apron recipes run about $10 a serving, while the food stamp program delivers about $1.37 per meal.  Moreover, people who subscribe to Blue Apron or Hello Fresh can choose which boxes they order.  So no, it's not like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh.  Food is one thing the United States has plenty of; too much of it gets wasted as it is.  I really don't understand why so many Americans care so much about what other people are eating and how they're paying for it.  SNAP cards are ONLY for food and there are limitations to the program, both in the products that can be purchased and the length of time one can receive the benefits. 

Secondly, I made the mistake of reading the comments from people in the community where I grew up.  I know the area well.  I know that people there are mostly decent, hardworking folks.  Many of them are political conservatives.  However, it turned my stomach to read what some of those people had to say about food stamp recipients.  I read comment after comment from people lamenting the mythical "welfare queens" loading up on steak and lobster with their SNAP cards.  While I certainly don't doubt that some people have used SNAP to buy steak or lobster, I don't think it's the norm.  I also figure that it's really no one else's business.  Maybe they bought those items on sale.  There's a set dollar amount to be used on those cards.  If someone with SNAP benefits buys lobster and uses up their benefits, that's on them.  If that food doesn't get purchased, it will go to waste anyway.    

One of the people commenting was once my neighbor, although I don't think she remembers me.  I once went to a dance with her son, who died of a brain tumor when he was fifteen.  I knew her younger daughter, who used to ride my bus and lived at the end of our dirt road.  Her vile comments about poor people made my blood boil.  So finally, I wrote this.

Yes, I was pissed.  I don't usually comment on these things because I don't like getting into pissing matches.  But the nonstop Trump drivel literally made me sick to my stomach.  I don't want to think that so many folks from my hometown are stupid, but I'm starting to believe that most of them really are.

And then, after I posted the above comment, I felt compelled to post this on my own page...

I wasn't surprised to find many people agreeing with me, although there's always one who has to be a dissenter.  At least she was respectful about it, which is really all I ask.  

I don't know why last night's Daily Press article about SNAP changes affected me differently than other articles I've read.  I've been reading that paper forever and I have been surrounded by dyed in the wool conservatives my whole life.  I used to consider myself a conservative.  However, the utter lack of humanity and the ignorant, unkind, and flat out gleeful comments about Trump's latest proposal to fuck over poor people just makes my skin crawl.  I'm feeling profoundly depressed about the future.  I could write more about some of the fleeting thoughts I have about wanting to exit this existence, but I realize they would be too disturbing and sad for some readers.  So I'm just going to leave it that.  

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