In his most recent budget proposal, President Trump proposes cutting billions of dollars from several social welfare programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.
This program, most commonly referred to as food stamps, provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans, about eight percent of the population, to buy groceries.
Under his plan, the food stamp program would be cut by $17.2 billion dollars, 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year, by 2019, and over $213.5 billion over the next decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The proposal also includes a complete redesign of the program; instead of receiving their full benefits for the month, SNAP recipients would only receive a portion of those benefits in addition to being sent a box of U.S grown commodities from the Department of Agriculture, a provision that would save the government money by obtaining common foods at a lower cost.
Craig Undersen, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, who has been studying food stamp programs for the past 20 years, said the program is fine the way it is.
The redesign “would be a disaster, he said.
“These new proposals would only create harm to the program and to the individuals who depend on the program now and in the future,” he said. “The way it works is we give [food stamp recipients] the dignity and autonomy to make their own decisions.
This would give them a basket of food every month. People might not want it and it’s stigmatizing. We’re telling them what they can and can’t consume. “A lot of people would leave the program because the food they would get through the program would not be as useful as the food they would get on their own, which would lead to increases in food insecurity.”
Andre Hunter, 54, of Southeast Washington D.C., is on disability and has been using food stamps for the past few months. He receives $90 a month in food stamps, which he says is helpful since his social security is not a lot.
He recalled how SNAP households would receive boxes of food when he was growing up, but is skeptical about how that would work today.
“Growing up it was crazy,” Hunter said. “How would this work this day and age with all these allergies, which concerns me for other people, not just me. Not to mention obesity, it’s like opening Pandora’s box.”
Lakeshia Taylor-Tehrani, 30, her husband, Culen Taylor-Tehrani, and their two sons are an example of how these cuts could affect a family. Taylor-Tehrani and her husband, Culen Taylor-Tehrani are disabled U.S. Army veterans. They live in Parkville, Md., near of Baltimore. Their food stamps recently decreased from $300 a month to $158 a month. Because of these cuts, La’Keishia Taylor-Tehrani said she believes she will be forced to decide which bills will be getting paid on time to keep her family fed.
“Paying big bills like car, rent, phone, and electric on time will be almost impossible,” she said.
Taylor-Tehrani works as a healthcare administrator in Baltimore and her husband is currently unemployed and suffering from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract.
This disease, along with his severe post-traumatic stress disorder, a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering from experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event, keeps him from working. Because of his Crohn’s disease, her husband requires a very particular diet, she said, one that she is extremely mindful of whenever she shops for her family.
In addition, her youngest son, Austin Taylor Tehrani, 5, has shown signs of the same disease. So, she must be even more careful when grocery shopping.
“Our 5-year-old child is too young to be diagnosed, but he has the same symptoms,” she said. “They can’t have regular milk, so I have to buy almond milk. They can’t eat red meat. So, I buy turkey. They can’t have cheese.”
“They need stuff that the average person doesn’t pay attention to that I have to be very mindful of when I shop. The government is not going to take into account that some people have dietary restrictions.”
Some SNAP recipients are already experiencing small cuts to their benefits, and they said they don’t know why. Angela Ford, who was sitting in the lobby of a D.C. facility to have her food stamps renewed, had her food stamps reduced from $200 per month to $190. Ford lost her job 12 months ago and has been on food stamps ever since. She is struggling to get by on the little money she receives each month, she said, so these potential cuts make matters more difficult.
“[The budget cuts] would really hurt me because it’s the only supplement I have,” Ford said. “It’s the only government assistant I have where I can eat. I lost my housing (subsidy) and all I have is food stamps. They already cut them down from $200 a month to $190. We’re living on $6.40 a day. $6.40 is not a lot, so we’re already in trouble.”
Hunger advocacy groups are fighting for funding the SNAP program and for its design to remain the same. Shannon Maynard, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center, said many other provisions in Trump’s proposal could be just as harmful to the program.
“These are all fine print proposals that are getting less coverage in the media that we should be just as concerned about than the boxed meal plans.”
Some of these provisions include restricting states’ ability to issue food stamps to unemployed adults, eliminating SNAP nutrition education programs, raising the age limit for SNAP recipients no longer required to work, and capping the benefit amount for large families of six or more.
Maynard is concerned that the lawmakers are more focused on saving money than helping the citizens.
“The big question is what are they solving for?” she said. “They look like they’re trying to solve for the amount of dollars in the SNAP program instead of trying to help the people in the program to become more food secure.”
Maynard said that these smaller proposals that go unnoticed pose a major threat to the elderly, poor communities, and the disabled.
Dwayne Gill, 48, is disabled and on food stamps. He receives $125 each month.
Gill worked as a pool operator in Oxon Hills, Md., until he got into an accident where he was hit by a truck and broke his leg in several places. He had to undergo four surgeries and was hospitalized for three weeks. He says that he is just now getting to the point where he can start working.
“It’s a long healing process,” he said.
Gill said cuts would force him back to work before he’s ready.
“I would have to speed up my recovery so that I could go somewhere to work full time,” he said.