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A Great Program Badly in Need of Disruption

Disruption is a good thing in technology because it is how we grow and evolve. The last significant disruption in Federal food distribution was the Agriculture Department’s final rule mandating that all states adopt EBT for the distribution of Woman, Infants and Children benefits. This occurred in 2016. It is also worth noting that the Rule incorporates provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. HHFKA passed Congress 6 years prior to the Final Rule.

Prior to WIC EBT, the last significant disruption in EBT was the Congressional mandate that all state EBT systems be interoperable with each other. Congress issued this directive in 1999, 16 years after the dawn of EBT technology

The use of electronic benefits transfer for the distribution of government benefits dates back to 1983. EBT has been one of the most successful public-private partnerships in American government history. But it is clearly an industry that at times rests on its laurels.

In February of 2018 the Agriculture Department which manages the SNAP program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, announced plans to convert a portion of each eligible household’s monthly benefit to what it dubbed a America’s Harvest Box pending the approval of Congress. The box would contain shelf-stable food staples.

The Harvest Box idea was previewed in President Trump’s 2019 budget message to Congress in February 2018. It is part of the Administration’s plan to cut federal SNAP spending by 200 billion dollars or 30 percent. 

Opposition to the plan was emotional, overwrought and largely along party lines.

In a statement Eloise Anderson, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department on children and Families and Chair of the Secretaries’ Innovation Group comprised of 22 state human services and workforce leaders from 22 states covering 52 percent of the country, wrote that she likes the idea that the Harvest Box proposal helps assure that recipient families…have a ready supply of healthy and nutritious food.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, according to a published report, admitted that the Harvest Box idea surprised members of Congress but also said that Department staff had consulted with experts while formulating the concept. He also reportedly called the plan a work in progress as the Department starts taking public comment.

According to one report, Secretary Perdue is looking for Congressional permission to develop a Harvest Box pilot program.