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Food stamp changes proposed by Trump administration

Proposal would reduce food choices for recipients

President proposes major changes in SNAP-food stamp program

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It's officially called SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but it's commonly known as food stamps and major changes could be coming from President Donald Trump.

A proposal announced Monday would cut benefits received by SNAP recipients in half, and replace them with a food package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The package would consist of powdered milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruits and vegetables, and other staples -- a package historically referred to as "commodities."

"Sounds like it's not going to be as easy as it was to make a meal," said David Frederick, reflecting on the matter with his wife, Jennifer Hamm, and their young daughter, Clover, in Colorado Springs.

"It sucks," Hamm said.  "I've been on food stamps for a long time.  I'm going to hate not being able to buy as much fresh produce and other things we like.  My daughter doesn't like commodities.  She won't eat them."

SNAP clients currently receive money on an EBT card that they use to buy any food that falls into certain categories -- breads, cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and edible seeds and plants.

Alcohol, tobacco, prepared foods, pet food and other non-food items do not qualify for SNAP recipients.

The Trump Administration believes states can provide the food packages more cheaply than what SNAP clients pay for food at stores, saving an estimated $129 billion over the next decade.

Other proposed SNAP changes could increase the total savings to $213 billion, cutting the overall program by nearly a third -- partly by eliminating 4 million recipients through tighter eligibility requirements.

Colorado Springs agencies that provide some of the commodities say it's too soon to determine exactly what the impact will be.

"How will the boxes be distributed?" asked Joanna Wise, of the Care and Share food bank.  "How much food will be in them and will it be enough?  Will the amount differ for individuals and families?"

Denise Sanders, of Ecumenical Social Ministries, worries about transportation for clients being an issue.

"I think it's going to be really hard and challenging for a lot of families," she said.  "I think they might have to move because they won't be able to take their box of food on a bus line, or walking -- however far they have to walk to get here.  They don't all live close to a distribution point.  They live all over the place."

Sanders said many SNAP clients prefer to shop themselves for healthier food.

"Some of the commodities are higher in fat and cholesterol and aren't as healthy," she said.  "Many of the clients eating them are on Medicaid and already have health issues.  I understand the need to save money, but expecting certain people to eat a certain way isn't a good thing."

Karen Logan, of El Paso County's Department of Human Services, said the proposal isn't as simple as exchanging store-bought food for government-packaged food.

"Some of the things we have to consider, is there are a large number of people in this community who have food allergies?" she said.  "Will these boxes meet the needs of families that have peanut allergies, or intolerance to other types of foods?  We can't assume that everyone who receives commodities can or will eat them."

Critics worry about the commodities not having instructions to prepare the food, which could be a problem for people who don't read English or don't eat certain foods.

"Some of our clients are homeless," Logan said.  "They may be camping in a tent, living on the street or in a car, or spending the night on a friend's couch.  They may not have access to a kitchen.  We can't expect them to be able to prepare a lot of the food in the boxes."

Trump's plan requires Congressional approval.  If it passes, it would take effect next year.

"I worry that we'll be affected more because it's harder to get food assistance in Colorado than it is in, say, California," Logan said.  "SNAP is only a supplemental program and doesn't provide all food needs.  But if they tighten requirements, a lot of people will be affected."

Around 450,000 people in Colorado receive SNAP benefits, including at least 100,000 in El Paso County.

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