Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Perdue to Food Box Critics: Give the Idea a Chance

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Perdue to Food Box Critics: Give the Idea a Chance

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday defended a proposal that would replace a portion of food stamp benefits with pre-assembled boxes of shelf-stable goods delivered to recipients' doorsteps an idea one lawmaker called "a cruel joke."

The idea was first floated last week in the 2019 budget proposal by President Donald Trump's administration, tucked inside a larger plan to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by roughly $213 billion or 30 percent over the next 10 years.

The backlash was fierce and immediate, from nutrition experts, advocacy organizations and lawmakers alike. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., top Democrat on the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee, said the proposal is "cruel and demeaning and an awful idea" that would strip families of the ability to choose which groceries they buy. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., wrote on Twitter that as a single mother who once relied on food stamps: "I can't overstate how offensive this proposal is. Low-income families need more access to fresh produce & healthy foods, not less."

Rachel Millard, a spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said last week that the committee heard from more than 80 experts during 21 hearings on SNAP, and none mentioned the idea of a food box.

Speaking to reporters Thursday after delivering the keynote speech at USDA's largest annual meeting, Perdue recognized that the idea took members of Congress by surprise, but said his staff consulted with a variety of experts while developing the plan.

"Our food nutrition group, I challenged them to come up with new ideas about how we could do more. How can we get a healthy, nutritious staple diet to people who need that? They were creative in their approach," Perdue said, adding that his staff "consulted with people in the delivery business, people in the food bank business who do this on a regular basis. …

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