George Boardman: Doug LaMalfa’s ‘Harvest Box,’ and the power of the press | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Doug LaMalfa’s ‘Harvest Box,’ and the power of the press

George Boardman
Columnist

Rep. Doug LaMalfa has been a relentless advocate for cutting food stamp spending since being elected to congress, embracing the Republican tradition of punishing the poor because … well, they're poor.

The fruits of his labor could be seen last week when President Donald Trump rolled out his new budget that, among other thing, proposes to cut food stamps by $17 billion in fiscal year 2019, the start of $213 billion in cuts to 16.4 million American households over the next decade.

To make up for the cuts, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients receiving more than $90 a month in benefits — that's 81 percent of participating households — will get half their benefits in the form of "America's Harvest Box," a selection of canned goods delivered in a "Blue Apron-type program," according to budget director Mick Mulvaney.

"It lowers the cost to us because we can buy (at wholesale prices) whereas they have to buy at retail," Mulvaney explained. "It also makes sure they're getting nutritious food, so we're pretty excited about it."

The box will include non-perishable items like shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereal, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, fruits and vegetables. All of this will be dictated by members of the political party who are always whining about the nanny state, but they have complained for years about how SNAP recipients spend too much taxpayer money on junk food.

When the House Agriculture Committee heard a report last year that 20 cents of each food stamp dollar is spent on junk food, LaMalfa suggested such items be added to the current prohibition barring the purchase of hot meals, tobacco and alcohol. "Shouldn't we try," he said. "Maybe it's worth the trouble. Is it really that much tougher to differentiate between soda pop and tobacco?"

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About 29,000 households in LaMalfa's district receive food stamps. Their median income is $21,907, and 48 percent are below the poverty line, so they should probably be thankful for what they get, even if it doesn't include fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables they could buy locally if they had the cash instead of the Harvest Box.

But the government is run by a party that once tried to classify catsup as food, and got excited because a woman found an extra $1.50 in her paycheck after the Trump tax cuts. We have to economize somewhere now that we're facing $1 trillion annual deficits, thanks to the tax cuts and willingness of Republicans to match Democrats dollar-for-dollar when it comes to spending.

Besides, the food stamp cuts will make it easier for LaMalfa to get funding for his favorite welfare program: The $25 billion we spend annually on farm subsidies.

Power of the press

Reader D. Jeffrey Sheldon contributed an "Other Voices" column recently in which he tried to divine the political leanings of The Union's reconstituted editorial board, par for the course in a community where new editors and publishers are routinely asked their political affiliation.

Of course, the people who care about the political leanings of the paper's leaders will just ignore anything The Union publishes that doesn't validate their strongly held beliefs. That's especially true when it comes to editorials, assuming the paper publishes editorials that take a strong partisan position.

Most newspapers have an editorial page staff that's like-minded ideologically. The Sacramento Bee is typical, a small staff singing from the same hymnal that can be counted on to write reliably liberal editorials. On the other hand, liberals shouldn't bother to apply for any openings on the editorial page staff of The Wall Street Journal.

The Union's editorial board is made up of people with a wide range of political views, and editorial positions are developed by consensus rather than by majority vote. That leads to a lot of editorials that call for a sensible, practical approach to local problems that cause readers to nod their heads and move on to the next article.

The Union didn't endorse a candidate for president in 2016 in part because the editorial board couldn't arrive at a consensus. "Rather than offering a 'board approved' list of candidates or measures, our role is to provide the public with content it needs to make informed decisions," the paper wrote.

Newspaper endorsements aren't worth much these days anyway. When newspapers were the dominant media, they could exert tremendous influence over public issues. Many times, endorsements were the deciding factors in close elections.

But the rise of television, the internet and social media has diluted that influence. While endorsements can make a difference close to home, they are much like a kiss from your sister: Nice to have, but something you can live without.

The Union hasn't endorsed a candidate since 2006, when incumbent county Clerk/Recorder Kathleen Smith was seeking election to a full term in office, and was opposed by the current holder of the office, Gregory Diaz.

Smith was something else. The supervisors appointed her in 2004 to complete the term of Lorraine Jewett-Burdick, who had resigned. Smith proceeded to screw up a couple of elections, turning the election office into a true Keystone Kops operation.

When she decided to run for a full term in 2006, The Union wrote in an editorial: "Ignorance is bliss, but not when it's mixed with arrogance."

Smith spent little money and did practically no campaigning, but she was elected anyway. Then she resigned in April 2007 a week before The Union reported she was moonlighting as the city clerk of Rio Vista for $90,000 a year.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

Observations from the center stripe: Slow edition

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