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Why Trump Cutting Food Stamps Could Starve America's Economy

When you're spending all day just trying to get food you've got no time to look for work.
Image: Food pantry client portrait
Julia Davis poses for a portrait after she receives her food at the CAMBA food pantry in Brooklyn, New York on Thursday April 9th, 2015.for NBC News

President Donald Trump's plans to kick start the nation's productivity by, in part, gutting food stamps, could actually starve the economy.

The proposed budget unveiled Tuesday assumes 3 percent economic growth, up from 1.9 percent, via a mix of tax and program cuts. That includes reducing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, by $192 billion over the next decade.

This is despite the government's own research that shows food stamps don't just pay for themselves — they have a return on investment. A 2010 USDA study found that every $1 spent on SNAP generates $1.79 in GDP.

Besides putting food on the table, the stimulus spending of food stamps grows the retail, wholesale and transportation economies that get it there, according to the report. And every $1 billion increase in SNAP creates 9,000 full-time jobs.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the president's plan also called for a work requirement for food stamp recipients.

"What we have done is not try to remove the social safety net for the folks who need it, but to try to figure out if there are folks who don’t need it and that need to be back in the work force,” he said.

Mulvaney also said the program would require states to pick up $100 billion of the tab for food stamps. Currently they only pay half the costs of administering it. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has said that in some states, that could lead to more people going hungry.

Unmentioned by the budget director is that when the needy are just trying to survive, they are less able to improve their station in life.

After Christine Palmer sees her two children off to school, she starts her full-time job: hunting for food.

The 48-year-old unemployed single mother from Brooklyn, New York, used to work as a home aide and a babysitter — but had to quit in order to meet her kids after school.

Her SNAP benefits aren't enough to feed the family each month, so she spends the whole day taking buses between Brooklyn food pantries. She's so busy just trying to put food on the table there's no time to pursue any kind of job retraining or other employment opportunities.

"Nobody is helping me," said Palmer when NBC visited her in 2015 at the CAMBA food pantry in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn.

"I never used to be like this," she added. "I wasn't rich but I never had problems where I had to look for help from nobody."

Money was clearly on the president’s mind in early May as he answered questions about his fiscal policies, during which he claimed he’d invented a certain commonly used phrase.

But there was at least one previous reference.

“Expanding food stamps,” said an independent study by Moody’s economics research firm in 2008, “is the most effective way to prime the economy's pump."