Image: AP

The Trump administration does not want to force cash poor families to eat pre-boxed meal rations after all. It just wants them to stop receiving food assistance altogether.

The proposal for the meal packages drew swift condemnation when it was first floated on Monday. But it was actually “a political gambit by fiscal hawks in the administration aimed at outraging liberals and stirring up members of the president’s own party,” according to a report from The New York Times. “The move, they said, was intended to lay down a marker that the administration is serious about pressing for about $85 billion in other cuts to food assistance programs that will be achieved, in part, by imposing strict new work requirements on recipients.”

So the “100 percent American grown” food delivery program was, the administration now claims, a way to grease the political wheels to dismantle food assistance by other means.

More from the Times:

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stealthily pitched the idea over the last few weeks to the White House’s Domestic Policy Council as a novel way to reach the administration’s self-imposed goal of slashing federal food assistance programs by $214 billion over the next decade. It was quickly embraced by Mr. Mulvaney, a fiscal hawk who is seeking to steer a debate increasingly dominated by free-spending Republicans and Mr. Trump, who has insisted on major budget increases for the Pentagon and Homeland Security.

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The proposal for food boxes was widely received as dead in the water, not because it is demeaning to deprive people in poverty of basic dignity and personal freedom (this country does that all the time), but because the logistical challenges—who would box and ship all that food, after all—were considered too high.

It would have also hurt the business interests of multibillion dollar retailers, like Walmart, where tens of billions of dollars in SNAP benefits are spent each year, and where some SNAP recipients are themselves employed.

So the combination of significant cuts and meal rations would have hurt the right people, but it would also have hurt the wrong people. And so it seems the administration will instead take the traditional conservative route: enacting dramatic cuts that will rob an estimated four million people of their their benefits and help weaken a program that helps feed around 20 million children every month.

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The reported push for stricter work requirements is also divorced from reality. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP,” even though they make such inadequate wages that they still need supplemental income to keep food on their tables. And because SNAP is also a support for people between jobs, “more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP.”

However, nearly half of SNAP recipients are children, and many others are elderly or have a disability that prevents them from working.

This, of course, does not matter. All of these proposals are displays of how punitive—how willfully demeaning and contemptuous—the Trump administration is willing to be in its efforts to undermine the already-thin protections we have in place for people living in poverty. As always, it was a question asked and answered.