Trump administration proposes food boxes instead of food stamps

For starters, let’s not compare this to Blue Apron.

grocery shopping, reading labels

SNAP recipients will have fewer chances to choose fresh fruits and vegetables under the proposed changes to the program. (Photo: CandyBox Images/Shutterstock)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program that used to be known as food stamps and is still often referred to that way, allows earning a low income to purchase food with an Electronic Benefit card (EBT).

There are restrictions on what can be purchased using SNAP benefits. No alcohol or tobacco products can be bought. No pet food, paper goods or cleaning supplies. Prepared foods that are ready to eat can’t be purchased either. Other than that, the benefits can be used for anything the USDA determines is food, including junk food and luxury items (like steak or lobster).

In the 2019 budget proposal unveiled earlier this week, the Trump administration says it wants anyone who receives at least $90 a month in benefits to get about half of their benefits delivered to them in the form of a box, according to NPR.

The items in the box would be pre-determined, would contain no fresh fruits or vegetables, and would include “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.”

White House compares plan to ‘Blue Apron’

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said it’s a “Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash,” according to Fortune.

The Blue Apron comparison falls flat and it’s the epitome of a phrase that we hear all too often lately: “tone deaf.” There is absolutely nothing similar about Blue Apron and the proposed box of canned goods and shelf-stable milk.

Blue Apron is a meal delivery service, not a food delivery service. Those who choose to subscribe to Blue Apron can pick the meals that appeal to them, and all of the ingredients (most of them fresh) are delivered in perfectly measured portions, along with easy-to-follow directions, ready to throw together to make an entire meal.

In comparison, what Mulvaney calls “America’s Harvest Box” provides no choices. There’s no indication that families will be able to choose the foods they want in the box based on dietary choices, allergy restrictions, or personal preference. Will vegetarian households receive canned chicken? Will families who can’t allow dairy products in the house because a child will go into anaphylactic shock be required to accept shelf-stable milk?

The questions

In the day or so since the budget proposal was released many, many questions have been brought up that have, so far, gone unanswered. Here are several that I have (in addition to the ones I asked above), or that I’ve seen raised in various articles or on social media.

  • What’s the cost of delivering these boxes?
  • Who will get the contracts for the delivery? (Maybe giving living wage jobs to people who are currently on SNAP be a requirement to get the contract.)
  • If boxes need to be picked up, what happens when a family doesn’t have transportation to get there?
  • What will become of grocery stores and markets in low-income areas that rely on SNAP purchases to stay afloat?
  • Who will get the contracts to produce these foods?
  • Some SNAP recipients are homeless. How will they get their boxes and how will they store food when they get it? How would they cook foods that must be cooked?
  • What happens to people who live in a home or apartment but have their electricity or gas turned off, often because of landlord issues. What happens when the only food they have is food they’re unable to cook?
  • How is it that the political party that was opposed to the Obama administration adding healthier, fresh foods to school lunches — saying the government shouldn’t tell people what they can eat — now wants to tell low-income families what they must eat?

The list of questions could go on and on, and the questions I’m asking here don’t begin to address the topic of human dignity.

The outcry over this proposal is loud, but it could be louder. Congress must vote on this, and before they do, we have the opportunity to contact our representatives in the House and the Senate and let them know how we’d like them to vote. I’m on it. Are you?


San Jose Lets Residents Try Their Hand at Balancing the City Budget

Residents using the Balancing Act website must decide what spending to cut in order to balance the budget.

Think it’s hard putting together your personal budget? Try doing it for the largest city in the Bay Area.

San Jose has put together a new website where residents can try to balance the city’s budget for the upcoming year using a program called Balancing Act.

On the website, residents can see the city’s revenue streams (such as property and sales taxes) alongside what the city spends on things like public safety, parks and housing. They then have to try to decide what spending they would eliminate to balance the budget.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said one of the issues the city faces when it comes to balancing the budget is that more residents live in the city than work there, reducing the taxes the city can bring in.

“We’re challenged here in San Jose because as a city with the worst jobs-to-housing balance of any major city in the country, we know we need more jobs in order to provide services,” Liccardo said at a community event on Saturday. “On the other hand, there a lot of folks who are pretty fed up with growth, and we understand why they are.”

Liccardo will lay out his priorities for the city’s 2018-19 city budget in mid-March, but before then he’s using this website to see where residents would like the city to focus its spending. Around 40 San Jose residents listened to Liccardo as he walked them through last year’s budget, explained the breakdown of city funds, and discussed some of the budget constraints at the Mayfair Community Center over the weekend.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo directs residents to a new website where they can tell the city how they would build a city budget.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo directs residents to a new website where they can tell the city how they would build a city budget. (Alyssa Jeong Perry/KQED)

After his presentation, residents were on their own to craft their San Jose budget.

“I’m concerned about police funding. I know San Jose has had trouble with the police funding,” said South San Jose’s Kevin Kelleher. So he chose to give more money to police by cutting money for transportation, but he still ended up with a deficit of $3 million.

Liccardo says allowing residents to try to balance the budget themselves helps them understand the intricacies of running a city with restricted funding.

“We’re required to make trade-offs, as we do in life in our own personal budgets,” he said. “It’s important for us to really get a clear picture of priorities within that constrained budget rather than a wish list.”

When they’re done crafting their own San Jose budget online, residents can submit their proposals, giving Liccardo and his staff a picture of what the public would like to see done with city funds.

“It’s helpful to enable us to understand whether what we think the community wants is really what the community wants,” Liccardo said.

How to Get a Jump Start on Your Spring To-Do List

Spring ChecklistIn the winter months, there is only so much that can be done to improve your rental property buildings and their surrounding grounds. Especially if you live in a cold, snowy climate, the typical outdoor upkeep and spring upgrades will just have to wait until the snow melts.

You don’t have to waste this precious off-season time, however. Use the winter months to plan what you’ll be doing when the snow is gone so you can be ready as soon as the weather permits. Here are a few things to consider when kickstarting your spring checklist:

  1. Complete Those Unfinished Autumn Projects
    If there were things you didn’t get to before the weather chilled, now’s the time to make sure you’re preparing to pick them back up. Make a good list, take inventory of any tenant complaints or questions that have gone unresolved, and focus on addressing those first. While you might not be able to complete those things until the snow melts, you can certainly focus on creating a timeline, processing any proper paperwork, and gathering the necessary tools. The more prepared you are by the end of winter, the more quickly you’ll be able to tackle the important things when the weather is right.
  2. Check for Winter Damage
    It’s often that the perils of winter bring damage to buildings and other common areas. Whether it’s caused by extreme cold or heavy snow and ice, you’ll need to start carefully assessing everything that has been buried for weeks or even months. Determine whether there is any serious or significant damage that needs to be fixed immediately. If you spot serious issues, you may need to correct those things before you can get to your list of unfinished items from the fall. Reprioritizing in this way will help prevent any further damage and keep buildings and renters safe in the meantime.
  3. Gather The Right Tools and Supplies
    When you know what kinds of projects you’ll be undertaking, you can shift your focus to acquiring the right tools. It’s likely that your to-do list includes items from the previous fall, along with anything you’ve noted throughout the winter, and standard maintenance projects fit for the spring. Of course, there can also be surprise projects you’ll need to handle. It can be hard to have all the necessary supplies for something you aren’t prepared for – but looking back on your past winter-to-spring transitions can help. There will likely be common projects you’ve been repeating most spring seasons, and you can base your shopping based on those trends.
  4. Make A Plan With Your Team
    Preparation is not just about tools and supplies. You and your maintenance team also need to be prepared. Take stock of what you have to do and who you will need to get the job done. That way, you can hire new people, if necessary, and get in touch with the right people who may work part-time or on a seasonal basis. By having them available and ready when the snow melts, you won’t spend a lot of extra time trying to get people and things organized. Set a date to get started, and your team will be able to hit the ground running.Preparing your properties for spring doesn’t have to be difficult. It is, however, very important for property managers, renters, and owners. The more you organized you are during the winter months, the easier it will be come springtime. By the time the snow finally melts, you be armed with a plan for your strongest season yet.

13 cozy cabins nestled in the snow

A lit-up cabin in Finland's Lapland region

A cabin in the snow with the lights on is a beacon to coziness. (Photo: Iris van den Broek/Shutterstock)

There are few things more romantic than the notion of waiting out a snowfall inside a rustic cabin. Ensconced a warm wooden home, enjoying the fun of being indoors while showing Old Man Winter who’s the boss — a cozy, warm cabin is simply the best place to be.

But if a cabin isn’t in the cards for you, or you’re just nostalgic for winters gone by, take a peek at these cabins that blend so perfectly into the winter landscape.

(Photo: Sveter/Wikimedia Commons)

A cabin near Ulriken, the tallest of seven mountains that surround Bergen, Norway.

(Photo: Wonderlane/Wikimedia Commons)

Nothing says winter in Alaska like a heavy snowfall on Christmas.

(Photo: Rick Cooper/Wikimedia Commons)

Good luck getting to this Lake Tahoe cabin.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Or to these cabins in Mjølfjell, Norway.

(Photo: Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty Images)

Just a nice snowy forest scene near the German town of Wildbad Kreuth.

(Photo: Markus Aeschimann/flickr)

Sledding down this slope in Arosa, Switzerland, is probably a real thrill.

(Photo: Joseph/flickr)

Even the U.S. Forest Service can’t escape the snow, but these cabins in Juneau, Alaska, make it look so … hygge.

(Photo: Chris/flickr)

Given it’s the northernmost region of Finland, Lapland cabins are well-acquainted with snow.

(Photo: Dave_S./flickr)

It turns out the cabins in southern areas of Finland, like this one in Selkie, are used to snow, too.

(Photo: Sky Cinema/Shutterstock)

Snow and sea are sights to behold at this Swedish cabin perched near the Baltic Sea.

(Photo: ForestWander/Wikimedia Commons)

This rustic cabin is a sanctuary during a storm in West Virginia.

(Photo: Grigvovan/Shutterstock)

A lodge-like cabin seemed like a good place to beat the winter in Sortavala, Russia.

(Photo: Marie Linner/Shutterstock)

It’s hard to miss this black cabin in Trysil, Norway, even during a snowstorm.

Fed Slaps Unusual Penalty On Wells Fargo Following ‘Widespread Consumer Abuses’

The Fed restricted Wells Fargo’s growth and called for the replacement of four board members following a widespread scandal that saw millions of fake accounts opened. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a rare move, the Federal Reserve announced Friday that it is restricting Wells Fargo’s growth and demanding the replacement of four board members in response to “widespread consumer abuses and compliance breakdowns” at the bank.

“Until the firm makes sufficient improvements, it will be restricted from growing any larger than its total asset size as of the end of 2017,” the Fed said in a statement. This is first time the Fed has placed a cap on the overall growth of a firm.

Wells Fargo says it has $1.9 trillion in assets.

The move to snuff its growth comes after the bank admitted in 2016 to creating potentially millions of fake bank accounts at the expense of unsuspecting customers.

NPR’s Chris Arnold has reported a “toxic high-pressure sales culture at the bank” drove workers to dupe consumers all while helping the bank’s bottom line.

The Fed said Friday that Wells Fargo’s business strategy prioritized its own growth at the expense of risk management resulting in compliance breakdowns. It is ordering the bank to “improve its governance and risk management processes, including strengthening the effectiveness of oversight by its board of directors.”

In the meantime, Wells Fargo is permitted to continue accepting customer deposits and make consumer loans, the Fed said.

Wells Fargo said complying with the consent order is its number one priority and has already taken steps get there. It plans to present a plan for improvement to the Fed within two months.

CEO Tim Sloan said in a statement, “Although one part of the consent order restricts our company’s asset growth, we remain financially strong and flexible and are confident we can fully serve your needs.”

But the bank estimated that its total earnings could drop by as much as $400 million this year.

The move represents Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s swan song. Saturday is her last day as head of the Fed when she steps down to make way for Jerome Powell, who takes over on Monday.

“We cannot tolerate pervasive and persistent misconduct at any bank and the consumers harmed by Wells Fargo expect that robust and comprehensive reforms will be put in place to make certain that the abuses do not occur again,” Yellen said in a statement.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit

Rent-To-Own Homes Pros And Cons

How Does Rent-to-Own for Homes Work? house key

What are rent-to-own homes and agreements? In rent-to-own agreements, tenants typically rent the home for anywhere from two to five years, paying above market-rate rent to build rent credits. When the lease-to-own agreement expires, tenants can purchase the home for the listing price, minus any rent credits they’ve acquired. If the tenant decides not to purchase the home when the lease expires, the landlord can decide whether to keep the individual on as a month-to-month renter, or ask this person to leave so the landlord can sell the home.

What Are the Advantages of Rent-to-Own Homes?

Renters who want to buy a home yet wouldn’t qualify for a down payment appreciate lease-to-purchase agreements. They can rent the home for an agreed-upon timeframe (typically several years), then have the option to buy when the agreement expires. This provides extra time to save for a down payment.

Individuals with poor credit can work to build credit while renting the home, so they qualify for a better mortgage loan when it’s time to buy.

Property owners enjoy steady rental income for the duration of the lease-to-own agreement, then receive a payout if the renter purchases the home. Some landlords like turning over properties through rent-to-own, using the influx of cash to trade up from older housing stock to more desirable (and prosperous) homes.

Property owners in tight real estate markets appreciate having options. Homeowners who cannot find qualified tenants for yearly leases may prefer to get someone under a rent-to-own agreement than to let a home sit vacant while they cover mortgage payments.

What Are the Disadvantages of Rent-to-Own Homes?

For renters, rent-to-own means putting more money upfront to build rent credits that will go toward the eventual real estate purchase. If renters’ personal situations change (for instance, they need to relocate) or they decide the home isn’t right for them, they’ll lose the extra money they paid.

If the price of the home declines over the course of the lease-to-purchase agreement, renters wind up with less of a bargain. The converse is also true: When home values rise, renters get a great deal on a property that may have been outside their budget.

For property owners, rent-to-own agreements work well in tight markets and when prices are flat. If the local real estate market heats up, sellers with existing rent-to-own agreements earn less money than they would have.

Individuals considering, “should I rent to own a home?” should have a real estate lawyer review the terms of any agreement. Sellers may put in clauses that disadvantage renters — whether it’s an escape clause if the market improves or a clause prohibiting late payments from earning rent credits.

To learn more helpful landlord tips, consider joining the American Apartment Owners Association. Members get access to low-cost landlord forms, educational webinars and much more. See all member benefits, then join AAOAtoday.

Disclaimer:All content provided here-in is subject to AAOA’s Terms of Use.

Should downsizing baby boomers rent or buy?

We can unequivocally conclude: It depends.

for rent

Rent here in the big city! (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It’s one of the most difficult questions people face when they sell a house: is it better to rent or buy? Writing in the Washington Post, Michele Lerner looks at the issue and talks to a financial advisor:

“Many of our clients who are at or near retirement like the idea of downsizing and moving into the city or closer to the city, and they assume it will be less expensive than maintaining a large home,” says Laly Kassa, managing director of financial planning at Chevy Chase Trust in Bethesda. “The reality is that it’s just as expensive to move closer to the city to an area that’s walkable and close to transit. Some are opting to buy, and some are opting to rent, but the decision is unique to each client.”

Lerner is talking mostly to wealthier people (the first couple has a second home in Italy) but for others, the house may be their biggest asset, and selling it unlocks that equity. And while I do go on about getting out of the suburbs and into a walkable community, you don’t have to move to the big city to get a taste of this; there are lots of university towns, for example, that are walkable, fun and affordable. And when you rent, you get to check them out without as big a commitment.

Jane Hodges of the Wall Street Journal notes that people with oversized houses and inadequate savings can do much better by selling and then renting. She writes:

Renting has both advantages and disadvantages for older consumers. On the plus side, renters typically enjoy a wider range of housing options, flexibility (a one-year lease is a short-term commitment) and the fact that building managers handle repairs, landscaping and snow shoveling.

The money question

Party in mom's apartmentParty time at my mom’s apartment. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Certainly that’s how it worked out for my parents. After they sold their house, they moved into a popular building but found the apartment a bit small and moved after just a few years. Their next apartment was huge, and when my father died, mom called the landlord and moved to a smaller apartment a few floors down. It was a building from the ’60s and had a terrible kitchen and no air conditioning, but the staff all knew her and watched out for her as she aged in place. With additional help in later years, she was able to stay in that building for 30 years.

Was it better for her to have rented all those years instead of owning? Probably, as she would not have seen the gain in value in her lifetime, and meanwhile her invested money did quite nicely and she was able to live on the income. You can’t eat a condo, and as John Maynard Keynes noted, “In the long run we are all dead.”

On the other hand, you can’t “fritter away” a condo or house; the money is locked up and could appreciate a lot more. There may also be tax advantages. But as Americans know from the Great Recession, housing prices don’t always go up, and they certainly don’t go up evenly across the country. Some homeowners are still under water 10 years later.

Renting may make more sense than buying for boomers for a lot of reasons, but here are the best of them:

  • It’s more convenient: None of the usual homeowner worries about maintenance and roof repairs apply — the landlord does it.
  • It’s more flexible: A condo is a real commitment, whereas a lease is much less of a deal and can often be terminated with a penalty if you really want to get out of it.
  • It can be cheaper depending on where you’re moving. People also underestimate the costs and insecurities of condo living where there can be high operating costs, special assessments and changes in taxes.
  • It might be easier at the next stage of your life. Things change, and if something happens and you have to move, it’s easier to move out of a rental than to dump a condo in a hurry.
  • You have money! Why not enjoy a bit of it instead of tying it all up in real estate?

Sanibel IslandSanibel Island might be a nice alternative right now. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Renting also offers some real opportunity to try out different parts of the city, the country or even the world for a couple of years, but buying pretty much ties you down. Just put all your stuff in one of Matt’s storage lockers and hit the road. That might be the best investment of your time and money that you ever make.

Lloyd Alter (  @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.