May 7, 2009 / 4:29 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. food stamps cost forecast up 14 percent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With food stamp enrollment at a record high, the Obama administration estimated on Thursday the program’s cost will rise by 14 percent in fiscal 2010 and could top $60 billion.

The administration’s budget proposal also asked for $7.777 billion for the Women, Infants and Children feeding program, up $917 million from this year, and renewed a proposal for a $1 billion a year increase for child nutrition programs.

Food stamps are the major U.S. antihunger program and help poor people buy groceries. Enrollment has set records for three months in a row, reaching 32.55 million at latest count.

Participation is highest during times of economic distress. Some economists say unemployment could reach 10 percent before the U.S. economy recovers from the recession that began in December 2007. The government will update the unemployment rate on Friday. It was 8.5 percent in the most recent report.

Spending on food stamps, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has zoomed in the past couple of years. Some $39.8 billion was appropriated in fiscal 2008 and $54 billion this fiscal year. Fiscal years open each Oct 1.

Child nutrition programs, which include school lunch and school breakfast, are due for renewal by Congress this year. The White House backs a $1 billion increase in annual spending on child nutrition but has yet to spell out how it would use the money.

U.S. President Barack Obama has the goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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