Conservatives usually hate big government. Why are they cheering Trump’s food-stamp overhaul?

It’s almost impossible to find fiscal responsibility in either political party these days. But a new proposal from the Trump administration suggests that small-government politicians may be just as endangered.

The new budget from President Trump will extend the direction, the controversy, and the double-talk of last week’s budget breakthrough in Congress. The $4.4 trillion 2019 spending plan has already stoked accusations of hypocrisy, perhaps most vociferously from a number of Republicans concerned about fiscal conservatism. However, one proposed reform to a safety-net program nestled inside Trump’s plan offers the most intriguing flip on traditional party positions. When it comes to food stamps, the Trump administration and its Republican allies want to innovate a big-government reform, while Democrats argue for the free market and individual choice.

Among the deep cuts to federal agencies, the Trump budget aims for a 16 percent reduction in spending at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, trimming close to $20 billion from an already reduced FY2018 outlay of $140 billion. That would be nearly impossible to accomplish through reductions in discretionary spending alone. In fact, the USDA will spend only $21 billion in discretionary funds for FY2018, once Congress passes the rest of the current budget in an omnibus bill expected in March.

The bulk of the USDA budget (82 percent) comprises mandatory spending — required spending based on statute, rather than appropriate funds from Congress — and almost all of it on nutrition programs. Most of that spending goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Outlays for SNAP have drifted downward over the past few years as the economy recovered from the Great Recession, falling from $103 billion to a projected $98 billion for FY2018. However, costs for Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) have risen, which leaves the outlays for mandatory spending roughly static.

The Trump administration wants to break that cycle and drive costs downward. To do so, it has taken a page from delivery food services to revamp SNAP. Rather than solely relying on electronic benefit transfers (EBTs) to debit cards, the White House proposes a model similar to Blue Apron for much of the SNAP effort. Half of all nutrition benefits would come in “USDA foods packages” directly to recipients, consisting of “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruit and vegetables.”

The government would obviously benefit from this model. Rather than have all of the SNAP benefits fund retail purchases of food items, the USDA could buy them in bulk at wholesale cost. The packaging and shipping would get centralized, allowing for greater efficiency, at least in theory, while limiting the potential for abuse of EBTs. The budget emphasized this point, saying that the proposal “has the potential to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse by limiting opportunities for benefits to be misused or trafficked.”

That’s not an unreasonable concern. The SNAP program is funded by taxpayers and has restrictions on both eligibility for enrollment and for purchases, the latter of which has proven tricky for both …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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