EVANSTON, Ill. — The Trump administration has proposed major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously known as the food stamp program. The president’s proposal, announced Monday, calls for low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month in SNAP benefits to get some of their allotment in the form of federally issued food, such as pasta, peanut butter, beans, shelf-stable milk and other goods.

Northwestern University professor Diane Schanzenbach is director of the Institute for Policy Research and a faculty fellow, as well as the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. She is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and studies policies aimed at improving the lives of children in poverty. Her recent work has focused on tracing the impact of major public policies such as SNAP. She can be reached at 847-491-8704 or[email protected]

“This is an incredibly radical and ill-advised proposal,” Schanzenbach said. “Right now, SNAP works in tandem with our incredibly efficient food retail system. Consumers go to one of many local food stores or farmers’ markets that accept benefits and can purchase the foods they need in the quantities they need. This system relies on the private market to deliver and stock the food and allows families to choose based on their tastes and needs.”

Schanzenbach said families on SNAP are incredibly diverse, and providing a one-size-fits-all basket of food would not serve that diversity well. Grocery stores stock their shelves based on consumers’ preferences, she said.

“Why would you want to replace the efficient free market system here with a big government system of distribution?”

Schazenbach said the food stamp program was introduced in the 1960s to replace the inefficient “commodity distribution program,” which in some ways mirrors portions of Trump’s proposal.

“It would be foolish to go back,” she said. “Such a system also would fundamentally undermine the ability of SNAP to stimulate local economies and serve as a counter-cyclical stabilizer, which is an important role of the program.”

Jaime Dominguez, an assistant professor of political science, specializes in issues of race and ethnicity, immigration, urban politics and Latino politics. He is the principal architect of the Chicago Democracy Project, a 30-year (1975-2005) online political database that measures policy outcomes for the city of Chicago. He can be reached at 847-491-8916 or [email protected]

“The attempt to balance the budget by slashing vital social service programs in federal housing subsidies and health insurance further weakens an already flimsy safety net,” Dominguez said. “Slashing SNAP funds to fund a border wall shows no compassion toward the most vulnerable in society – the poor and children. The proposal to cut federal programs by $17 billion in 2019 alone is a gut punch to America’s vulnerable society.”