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Food stamp program participation up 50 percent since 2008

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 09-Dec-2010

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The number of Americans signing up for food stamps on the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased at an even faster rate in 2010 than in 2009, according to new USDA figures.

The number of people receiving food stamps in September 2010 stood at 42.9m, the newly released figures show, up by six million compared to a year ago, when 36.9m people were enrolled with the program – and a rise of more than 50 percent on 2008 numbers.

Last year, Americans were joining the food stamp program at an average rate of 20,000 a day; in 2010 the rate accelerated to 22,000 a day.

Nutrition professor Dr. Marion Nestle told “Pretty obviously, this is a sign that the economy is still in bad shape, especially at the lower income ends. Wall Street may still be giving bonuses, but more and more Americans don’t have places to live or food to eat.”

In order to qualify for the program, household income must be at less than 130 percent of the poverty threshold, roughly equivalent to $29,000 a year for a family of four.

Nestle added that funding for this level of food stamp use could prove unsustainable in the current economy.

“Some funding has already been cannibalized to fund the Child Nutrition Reauthorization,” she said. “The more expensive it gets, the more the program will be a target for lawmakers looking for moveable cash.”

The program cost $64.7bn in 2010, up from $34.6bn two years ago.

Participation levels have set new records for 22 straight months. According to White House estimates more than an eighth of the population will get food stamps each month in the year beginning October 1.