BY CHLOE JENSEN ’20
On Feb. 13, President Donald Trump proposed a new bill to enact major change on SNAP, the United States’ Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, otherwise commonly known as food stamps. In addition to a 10 billion dollar budget decrease, this bill will also provide families with pre-selected “Harvest Boxes.” If the bill passes, “Harvest Boxes” will give qualifying families a box of fresh, “100% American grown food” for half of their monthly food assistance, leaving families with only half of their original cash allowance, according to TIME.
Although the Trump administration claims that the policy would increase jobs and decrease the budget, it is very clearly based upon the idea that poor people make irresponsible decisions based on the food they purchase. This bill further perpetuates the misconception that low-income families cannot make their own purchasing decisions, and need the government to police their food.
Every time government officials propose a new bill about welfare benefits, I always see a dozen think-piece articles about the “inherent laziness of poor people” on Facebook with a sea of comments supporting these stereotypes.
Often, these commentators believe that welfare-recipients are taking advantage of taxes for their own personal benefit. By pre-selecting grocery items, the Trump administration hopes to limit the likelihood of low-income families supposedly “taking advantage of the system.”
Growing up in a low-income family in the wealthy suburbs, my family was constantly under scrutiny from both wealthy parents and other community members for what we did and didn’t spend our food stamp allowance on. If my mom bought us conventional grapes, she was “poisoning us with pesticides.” If she bought us organic apples, she was “wasting her allowance.” And if she dared to use to use even a single cent of the $240 we were given a month towards treats like ice cream, soda or candy, she was stared down and made to feel ashamed.
This is not an uncommon experience for low-income families. If you receive any sort of government assistance, your budget somehow becomes everyone’s business and a national debate. It does not matter how many hours a single parent works at their minimum wage job, or how much a retired grandmother is struggling to feed her grandchildren or how a disabled person struggles to make their disability check last for all of their living expenses -— the presumption is that if you are in need of government assistance, you are not working hard enough. Whether or not your kids are deserving of sweet treats or nice things is completely out of the question when you live below the poverty line.
These new “Harvest Boxes” will not only inconvenience poor people, but will also allow the state to cut back on funding under the guise of providing services according to responsibility.
In many ways, our distrust of poor people goes beyond welfare use and is also applied to other situations like wealth. During my senior year of high school, I was faced with similar biases regarding my college decision. While many of my peers were elated that I committed to Mount Holyoke, several old family friends asked why I picked such an expensive school, claiming we were elitist and wasting our money. Although none of them knew about scholarships and generous financial aid, our family friends immediately assumed I was undeserving of an elite education. It didn’t matter how hard I worked in high school to earn my spot here, just like it hadn’t mattered how hard my mom worked when she wanted to buy her kids organic apples or Ben & Jerry’s.
Trump’s proposed bill would not only hurt SNAP recipients by restricting their ability to choose their own food, but it also continues to perpetuate the idea that low-income people are irresponsible and incapable of knowing what is best for them and their family, no matter how hard they work. Or as Douglas Greenaway, the president of the National WIC Association, phrased it in an NPR interview: “The budget seems to assume that participating in SNAP is a character flaw.”