WASHINGTON For the first time, more than 34 million Americans received food stamps in May, the government said on Thursday, another symptom of the longest and one of the deepest recessions since the Great Depression.
Enrollment surged by 2 percent to reach a record 34.4 million people, or one in nine Americans, in the latest month for which figures are available.
It was the sixth month in a row that enrollment set a record. Every state recorded a gain, and Florida had the largest increase at 4.2 percent.
Enrollment for food stamps, which help people buy groceries, is highest during times of economic stress. The U.S. unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is the highest in 26 years.
"Food stamp enrollment is rising because the economy is having a devastating impact on low-income families and they need this program to eat," said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank. "Every single state has been affected."
The average benefit in May was $133.65 per person. The economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year included a temporary increase in food stamp benefits of $80 a month for a family of four.
The federal stimulus legislation will block a potential $5 a month decline in benefits in fiscal 2010 which would have been triggered by moderating food prices, the Agriculture Department said.
Food stamp enrollment
May 34.409 million
April 33.758 million
March 33.157 million
February 32.556 million
January 32.205 million
December 2008 31.784 million
November 2008 31.097 million
October 2008 31.050 million
September 2008 31.586 million
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Jim Marshall)