Thursday, December 4, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Food stamps, the main U.S. antihunger program which helps the needy buy food, set a record in September as more than 31.5 million Americans used the program — up 17 percent from a year ago, according to government data.
The number of people using food stamps in September surpassed the previous peak of 29.85 million seen in November 2005 when victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma received emergency benefits, said Jean Daniel of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.
September’s tally — the latest month available — was also boosted by hurricane and flood aid, Daniel said on Wednesday.
But anti-hunger groups said the economic downturn is the main reason behind the higher figures.
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“It’s a disturbing trend,” said Ellen Vollinger, legal director with the Food Research and Action Center. She said she expects more people will turn to food stamps as unemployment figures rise and the economy remains weak.
One in 10 Americans were participating in the food stamp program as of September, said Dottie Rosenbaum, analyst with Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank.
That’s approaching the all-time high of 10.5 percent of the population that used the program in 1994, and is similar to levels seen in the early 1980s, she said.
States that have seen a drop in job numbers and increase in home foreclosures such as Florida and Nevada also have seen a marked increase in food stamp use, Rosenbaum said.
Food banks are struggling to meet increased requests for food, said Maura Daly of Feeding America, a network of food banks.
“The tough economic time that our nation is facing is having a tremendous impact on the level of food assistance needed across the country,” Daly said.
On average, people who used food stamps received $100 per month in benefits in September. That increased slightly in October to account for higher food prices, but hunger groups said the benefits still don’t go far enough at a time of high food prices and home heating costs.
This article was posted: Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 7:35 am