Washington The boxes arrive every month at churches, senior citizen centers and other sites for distribution to nearly a half-million poor elderly people. Each is stocked with a mix of nutritious foods such as cereal, peanut butter, fruit, vegetables and pasta. Sometimes volunteers deliver them right to people's homes.
Now President Bush wants to eliminate the program, one of 141 federal initiatives that his proposed new budget would scrap or cut dramatically. He is proposing to shift people in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program over to food stamps.
Defenders of the nutrition-in-a-box program say many elderly people are reluctant to sign up for food stamps, and, in any event, the commodity program often provides a more generous package.
"It really does come under the category, in the most extreme way, of balancing the budget on the backs of those who are most needy. And in this case we're not even balancing the budget," said Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations agriculture subcommittee.
"I call it misplaced priorities. How do you justify doing something like this, while at the same time giving people like Herb Kohl huge tax cuts?" said Kohl, a multimillionaire.
The commodity program, run by the Agriculture Department, benefits mainly elderly people, although some new mothers and children also participate. The department wants to move recipients to food stamps in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The program cost about $111 million this fiscal year, including a $4 million supplement for victims of Hurricane Katrina.