November 17, 2011 / 10:21 PM / in 6 years

Food stamp use up in '10, especially in Nev-U.S. Census

WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. households relying on food stamps, the subsidies that help people cover the costs of groceries, soared 16 percent in 2010 to 13.6 million, the Census said on Thursday.

That means more than one in 10 American households -- 11.9 percent -- used the assistance to buy food.

Nevada, had the largest increase in food stamp use in 2010, the latest year data is available, from 2009. The number of households filing for and receiving the aid shot up 48.4 percent there, the Census showed.

Altogether, food stamp use increased in 45 states. Four other states -- Idaho, Colorado, Wisconsin and Florida -- also had increases of 30 percent of more.

Oregon, though, had the highest participation rate in the program, which is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at 17.9 percent.

Fifteen percent or more of people in seven other states also used food stamps: Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan and Maine.

Food stamps are often used to gauge a state’s economic health, and the federal government shares the costs and administration of the program with state governments.

Their increased use in Nevada reflects the state’s wider problems.

Nevada was especially stung by the bursting of the housing bubble and, like many states, has yet to fully recover from the economic recession that officially ended in 2009 -- its unemployment rate has been above 10 percent for 31 straight months. According to the U.S. Labor Department, its mean hourly wage was $19.82 and mean annual pay was $41,220 in 2010.

Nationally, the national mean hourly wage of $21.35 and mean annual pay of $44,410 in 2010.

Oregon fares slightly better, with an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent. In 2010, its mean hourly wage was $20.94 and its mean annual pay was $43,550.

The recession began in 2007, pushing up the levels of food stamp enrollment throughout the country. Meanwhile, the federal government expanded eligibility for the program in 2008 and increased the benefits in the 2009 economic stimulus plan.

In an average month in fiscal 2010, 40.3 million individuals received the benefits, an all-time high and 20 percent more than in 2009, the U.S. Agriculture Department, which oversees the program, reported in September.

Most of the households lived in poverty and included a child or elderly or disabled person, it said.

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