Food from a foodbank
[WOUB File Photo]

Proposed Change To SNAP Draws Ire from Athens Businesses

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The Trump Administration’s proposed plans to change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been derided by many in the Athens area food industry.

The new plan would replace SNAP debit-cards with food boxes containing canned and prepackaged items. The food packages would not contain fruits or vegetables.

Athens area residents involved in the food industry have mixed feelings about the changes. The general feeling is that it will make it more difficult for SNAP recipients to get fresh produce.

Ashley Eastman, Manager of The Farmacy said the changes eliminate options for those who receive SNAP benefits.

“Everyone deserves to make their own food choices,” she said. “If a person wants to choose to eat organic, things that are free of pesticides, hormones, herbicides, that is going to contribute to the health of them and their families, and honestly that just betters society.”

And choice is the main concern for many who could be affected by the proposed changes. Rather than shopping for food at a local grocer, and pay for it with a debit card, a box of food would be shipped to them.

Distressed Communities

28 percent of Athens County residents live at or below the poverty line. According to the US Census Bureau, SNAP is crucial for many families.

“SNAP is one of those features that a lot of those people in their daily life they depend on to support their families to make sure they have the nutrition at the table to sustain themselves,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said.

A common complaint is that those using SNAP abuse the system. Gary Wells, Co-Owner of Bulk Food Depot, said he has seen some of that in his time in the food business, but he said changes in the program have reduced such abuses.

“I have seen, in the 20 years that I have been here, a way that people shop being more practical with it now,” he said. “Buying less candy and buying more flour, rice, beans and spices.”

The proposed changes would not just affect SNAP recipients, but local businesses too.

“The Athens Farmers’ Market accepts SNAP benefits, and so if they weren’t able to accept SNAP benefits then that’s going to affect the business of the local farmers,” Eastman said.

“We see $500 to $800 in sales from SNAP a month,” Wells said.

The Bigger Picture

The president’s proposal is particularly problematic in Appalachia, a region that strongly supported Trump’s election. A large percentage of Appalachia qualifies for SNAP benefits. An amendment to the proposal is expected if his base opposes it.

Another criticism of the plan centers on the president’s oft-touted business acumen and how this plan would hurt local businesses.

“For an administration that claims to be so business-friendly, that doesn’t seem like too good of an idea for me,” Eastman said.