Local social services directors react to SNAP proposal

The federal government may hop on the bandwagon of a growing trend and become the latest home food delivery service.

Proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the White House’s recently released 2019 budget includes delivering a United States Department of Agriculture Foods box to some recipients’ doorsteps.

Households receiving $90 or more would receive the boxes, and the remaining portion of benefits would be deposited on the EBT cards now used to purchase food from state-approved stores.

The boxes would include shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, canned fruit, beans, vegetables, meat, and poultry or fish.

The budget states that the changes would save more than $200 billion over 10 years, at a rate of about $20 million per year.

“This cost-effective approach will generate significant savings to taxpayers with no loss in food benefits,” the budget states. “It will also improve the nutritional value of the benefit provided and reduce the potential for EBT fraud.”

Local social services directors do not know how many citizens in their localities receive $90 or more in SNAP benefits, but total 2017 recipients were 4,791 in Frederick County, 5,687 in Warren County, and 5,358 in Winchester. According to Virginia Department of Social Services statistics, the average benefit received per household in January 2018 was $262 in Shenandoah County, $271 in Warren County, $270 in Frederick County, and $246 in Winchester.

Warren County Social Services DeAnna Cheatham said: “I can’t imagine with the number of people receiving SNAP benefits that it would work.”

Shenandoah County Social Services Director Carla Taylor said recipients should not worry about changes anytime soon, because the logistics involved would take years to enact. Delivering the boxes in rural communities, for example, could be “really problematic.”

She added that despite wide-held beliefs, most SNAP recipients have jobs, and boxes could be stolen during working hours.

“Given those barriers, I think it would be an uphill battle to do it,” Taylor said.

Cheatham also said she thinks distributing the boxes in rural areas would be difficult and she cannot “imagine it being an overnight success.” Potential trouble lies in refrigerating certain foods and funding postage.

“I guess anything is possible…but I can’t imagine that it would be fiscally responsible,” she said.

Other issues she noted included eliminating freedom of choice, as recipients can now buy any food that is not hot.

Taylor said lack of choice would particularly be a problem for those with allergic and religious dietary restrictions. The program may also present issues to retailers that depend upon selling food to SNAP recipients. Those who live far away from grocery stores and are without transportation, however, could benefit. All factors considered, she would rather see the current EBT method payment continue, as distributing benefits electronically is easier and “pro-private sector.”

The budget proposal states the boxes would be a “bold new approach” to SNAP that “would maintain the commitment to ensure Americans in need of assistance have access to a nutritious diet while significantly reducing the cost to taxpayers.”

Frederick County Social Services Director Tammy Green and City of Winchester Communications Director Amy Simmons both said they did not know enough about the proposed changes to comment on the matter.

Correction: The article incorrectly stated that the proposed changes would cut $200 billion from the SNAP budget. The correct amount is $200 million.