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Food Stamps use rises to record 46 million.

August 7, 2011

Nearly 15% of the U.S. population relied on food stamps in May, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The number of Americans using the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — more commonly referred to as food stamps — shot to an all-time high of 45.8 million in May, the USDA reported. That’s up 12% from a year ago, and 34% higher than two years ago.

The program provides monthly benefits to low-income individuals and families, which they can use at stores that accept SNAP benefits.

To qualify for food stamps, an individual’s income can’t exceed $1,174 a month or $14,088 a year — an amount that is 130% of the national poverty level.The average food stamp benefit was $133.80 per person and $283.65 per household in May.

The highest concentration of food stamp users were in California, Florida, New York and Texas — where more than 3 million residents in each state received food stamps in May.

The rise in food stamp use comes as the U.S. job market continues to sputter, and food prices across the country climb.

Unemployment benefits at risk

But a spike in food stamp users in Alabama may have been responsible for pushing total usage unusually higher in May. Following a series of devastating storms, many residents received disaster assistance under the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the USDA said. Food stamp use in the state surged from 868,813 in April to 1,762,481 in May.

“USDA does not anticipate that trend of increase to continue, given that it appears to represent a response to a single disaster,” the USDA said.

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