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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nearly 10 million people have been added to the U.S. food stamp benefits rolls since December 2007 as job losses and plummeting home values swell the ranks of the country's poor.
Almost 37.2 million people received government food assistance in September this year, the latest data available.
That's up nearly 35 percent since December 2007 and almost 18 percent year-on-year.
The average monthly household benefit from the program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was $292.31 in September.
Some quick facts about food stamps:
* Seeds for the program, which helps poor people buy food, were planted after the Great Depression. Congress approved the Food Stamp Act in 1964 and the program went nationwide a decade later with almost 14 million participants.
* The name of the program was changed to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in October 2008.
* The government ended the paper coupons associated with the program. It has used an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) system since June 2004. Food stamps and other benefits are loaded on EBT cards that work like bank debit cards.
* Recipients typically have household incomes below the poverty line, about $22,000 annually for a family of four. They can own a home or car. Households in general can have $2,000 in liquid assets. Retirement accounts and educational savings do not need to be spent before benefits can be received.
* The average person receives benefits for about nine months.
* About 40 percent of participants have someone in the household who still earns wages. Children account for a little more than half of users.
* Children of food stamp users are enrolled in free school lunch programs.
* The USDA expects to have more than $64 billion to spend on food stamp benefits in fiscal 2010, including nearly $6 billion in anticipated stimulus money, up 14 percent from the fiscal year ended September 2009.
* Critics of the program tried to kill it in the 1990s, after complaints that some users were eating better than the people who footed the bill, but political support has risen because many see the program as benefiting the working poor and others who have fallen on hard times.
Reporting by Lisa Baertlein. Editing by Robert MacMillan