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Rep. Welch: Food box proposal has little chance of passing

March 9, 2018

BARRE, Vt. (AP) — The Trump administration’s proposal to replace a portion of food stamp benefits with a pre-assembled box of shelf-stable goods has little chance of passing in Congress, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said Friday.

The Democratic congressman met with representatives of anti-hunger groups and community service providers at the Vermont Foodbank. They told him priorities they’d like to see addressed in the federal Farm Bill, which includes nutrition programs that they say provide a critical safety net for one in 10 Vermonters.

“It just isn’t practical,” Welch said of the food box proposal. “I think even my colleagues who will want to cut the funding won’t necessarily want to go to the one-box-serves-everybody approach. So I have some significant hope that this bad idea won’t go anywhere.”

The “America’s Harvest Box” idea was included in the Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal in a plan to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP by roughly $213 billion, or 30 percent, over the next decade.

More than 75,000 people in Vermont get SNAP benefits, said Faye Conte, advocacy and education director for Hunger Free Vermont.

“I think it’s really fair to say that if the proposal ... did go through and we were to shift SNAP benefits to a commodity box like that, we would see hunger skyrocket in all of our states and would see a demand on food banks, food shelves, and churches providing community suppers in their basement, all of that would increase,” Conte said.

Cuts to SNAP would completely overwhelm the Vermont Foodbank, which provides emergency food, does, said CEO John Sayles.

“We can’t fill that gap,” he said.

Robert Ostermeyer, director of the Franklin Grand Isle Community Action in St. Albans, called the food box proposal humiliating.

It’s saying to recipients that they are in a certain class in society that’s given these kinds of foods.

“You don’t have choice,” Ostermeyer said. “Your family size, your ethnic background, your preference are immaterial and you’re irrelevant to us. You are simply a commodity and we’re going to give you commodity food.”

A coalition of Vermont advocacy groups and community service partners have recommended that Congress protect all the federal nutrition programs in the Farm Bill and maintain or increase funding to them. It also recommends preserving SNAP eligibility.

“None of the programs need big shifts,” Conte said.

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