Proposed Changes to Nutritional Assistance Programs Will Disproportionately Affect Disabled People

Fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables displayed in bulk in boxes.

I am disabled and though I am not currently on food stamps, there have been times in my life when I have relied on them. Food stamps have been in the news again lately as the current administration has proposed replacing the current food stamp program with a “Blue Apron style” “harvest box” food delivery service that gives people food directly instead of giving them credits that allow them to buy the food they want at the store.

If implemented, this proposal will be will disproportionately harmful for the disabled people who are twice as likely to be poor than able bodied people. Though the website for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) claims that just under 12% of its recipients are disabled. I would argue that that number is too low as they are likely only considering the people receiving disability benefits as disabled and not counting people who have been denied benefits or are disabled but able to work. Either way, a significant amount of disabled people rely on programs like SNAP for literal survival.

People with disabilities may also have health issues that mean we need to be on specialized diets or eating plans, which is another reason food delivery is problematic. For example, people with Celiac disease cannot eat gluten without harmful effects. Many people with health issues are also encouraged to limit sodium. (You know what has a lot of sodium? The canned vegetables that are proposed to be in the boxes.) This doesn’t even count allergies or food-elimination diets that may be part of the diagnostic process.

More often than not, one of my doctors has me eating extra of some foods and less of others. There is no way for the government to be able to respond to these needs. Forcing people to eat certain foods may actually make them sicker and even less likely to be able to find employment that will help them get off of food stamps.

Finally, many disabled people may be physically unable to do of the preparation required to consume the foods that would be delivered. Ingredients don’t just magically become meals. I rarely cook due to pain, fatigue, and problems using my hands. Instead, I make sure we have easy to prepare foods that my kids can cook themselves or that I can grab if I am home alone and need to eat. We all have limited amounts of energy but for disabled people, especially people with chronic illnesses like me, even doing the bare minimum to get through the day (which includes eating already prepared food) is too much for me.

We cannot neglect to recognize how the “harvest box” idea will negatively impact disabled people. The needs of low income disabled people must be part of the conversation. Aside from the fact that disabled people are disproportionately low income and thus more likely to rely on the SNAP program, everyone deserves the freedom to choose food that promotes health and is accessible.

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Katie Tastrom is a disability lawyer, writer, and activist. Her work has appeared at Slate, NBC News, Ravishly, and others. She writes frequently about living with chronic illness. You can find more of her work at