WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One in nine Americans are using federal food stamps to help buy groceries as the country’s deep recession forced another 591,000 people onto the federal anti-hunger program at latest count.
Enrollment jumped 2 percent to 33.2 million people in March, the fourth consecutive month that rolls hit a record, said the Agriculture Department. The average monthly benefit was $113.87 per person.
“It’s tough out there for struggling families and will be for many months to come,” Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said.
“It’s very likely that the numbers will continue to grow in the coming months as a turnaround in unemployment and wage declines typically lags behind the recovery of the broader economy,” he said.
In 20 states, as many as one in eight are on the food stamp program, according to the Food Research Center.
The U.S. economy has contracted sharply since last fall, with nearly 6 million jobs disappearing since the beginning of 2008. Further job losses are expected as the recession grinds on.
Congress allocated some $54 billion for food stamps this fiscal year, up sharply from $39 billion last year. In the new fiscal year beginning Oct 1, costs are estimated at $60 billion.
U.S. enrollment in recent months:
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
Sept 2008 - 31.587 million
Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Russell Blinch and David Gregorio