WASHINGTON A record 31.8 million Americans received food stamps at the latest count, an increase of 700,000 people in one month with the United States in recession, government figures showed on Thursday.
Food stamps, which help poor people buy groceries, are the major U.S. anti-hunger program, forecast to cost at least $51 billion in this fiscal year ending September 30, up $10 billion from fiscal 2008.
"A weakened economy means that many more individuals are turning to SNAP/food stamps," said the Food Research and Action Center. Last summer food stamps were renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The average food stamp benefit is $115 a month for individuals and $255 a month per household.
Enrollment for food stamps in December was up 2.2 percent from the previous month with increases in all but three states. Ohio had the largest increase among large states, up 3.4 percent, to 1.26 million people. Texas had the largest enrollment, 3.05 million, up 1.8 percent.
The previous record for food stamp enrollment was 31.6 million last September, which included "disaster" stamps for states hit by hurricanes and floods.
In April, food stamp benefits will increase temporarily by 13 percent under provisions of the recently enacted economic stimulus law. Ellen Vollenger of the Food Research and Action Center said some families will see increases of $80 a month.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Chris Wilson)