How the Trump administration could endanger food security for millions

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Over the past year, the Trump administration has talked about implementing changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). From imposing stricter work requirements to "reforming" enrollment, the administration's proposals are not minor changes. Now, a new study shows that the Trump administration's proposals could cost millions SNAP benefits, and it should be a cause for concern.

SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps, is a program that helps supplement food budgets. The study was put together by the Urban Institute, a think tank focusing on economic and social policy research. For the study, the Urban Institute focused on the effects that three proposed changes would have to the program. These proposals would tighten work requirements, alter automatic enrollment in 40 states, and cap deductions for utility allowances.

If the proposed changes had gone into effect in 2018, the Urban Institute discovered that 3.7 million Americans and over two million households would have lost their SNAP benefits. The study also found that nearly a million students would lose their free or discounted school meals.

Households who maintained their benefits would likely see significant reductions. For example, 2.2 million households would see their average monthly benefits decrease by $127, while 3 million would see a monthly decrease of $37. Losing out on $37 may not seem like a lot, but it can make or break a household.

"What we found is that overall the three proposed changes would reduce the number of households participating in SNAP by about 11 percent if this was implemented in 2018,” Laura Wheaton, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told NBC News. "It’s about a 9.4 percent reduction in the number of people participating and about an 8 percent reduction in overall benefits."

In a December 2018 column, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue defended the proposed SNAP changes. Perdue argued that the changes will "'do right' by the taxpayers and restore the dignity of work to the able-bodied who receive SNAP benefits."

Perdue's argument seems to center on the idea that SNAP discourages people from working. But, given that a letter signed by mayors of 70 American cities pointed out that 80 percent of all SNAP households have a child, disabled person, or elderly person, it's an interesting focus.

Plus, SNAP participants who can work tend to do so. In March 2018, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that most working-age SNAP participants are employed. They're just working low-wage jobs that are often unstable.

The focus on whether SNAP participants work distracts from the program's purpose, though. As Craig Gundersen, an agricultural and consumer economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pointed out to NBC News, SNAP is not a work program. It's meant to address food insecurity.

Overall, the administration's 2019 budget proposed cutting SNAP by more than $213 billion over the next ten years. But benefits as they exist now are barely enough to help SNAP participants. According to Gundersen, 50 percent of participants are still food insecure.

Food insecurity is not a problem that will magically go away. If the administration implements these changes, the Urban Institute's report shows that millions of households across the country will suffer for it.