Food stamps went to a record 46.68 million Americans in July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Friday — the same day the White House announced the lowest monthly unemployment rate during President Barack Obama’s term.
And one of the biggest monthly jumps in food stamp use came in Illinois, Obama’s home state, beaten out only by West Virginia where flooding affected agricultural employment.
Food-stamp participation was up by 11,532 from June and 2.9 percent higher than a year earlier, the USDA said. The number rose in part because of the local drought and flooding conditions.
The average amount of food stamps per person in July totaled $134.20, the USDA said.
The total of Americans enrolled in the USDA’s food-stamp program — more formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — has exceeded 46 million since September 2011.
The nation’s unemployment rate had surpassed 8 percent for 43 straight months, the entire length of Obama’s tenure in the White House, but the U.S. Labor Department said that the rate for August was 7.8 percent.
In their first presidential debate on Wednesday, Republican candidate Mitt Romney cited the SNAP Program’s exponential growth as continued evidence of Obama’s failing economic policies.
In Illinois in July, 1.89 million people received SNAP benefits, up 0.9 percent from the 1.87 million in June. That was the second largest monthly increase in food-stamp use by any state in the nation.
By comparison, the largest monthly decline was in Utah, where food-stamp usage was down 6.5 percent in July, to 257,736 compared with 276,698 in June.
“When you have a difficult recession, as one as deep as we’ve experienced, you’re going to see an increase, obviously, in participation in programs that provide help for folks that are going through a tough time,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bloomberg News in an interview last week.
Overall, monthly spending on food stamps reached $6.26 billion, also a record, and was 2.9 percent higher over the previous year, the USDA said on Friday.
Food-stamp spending has more than doubled in four years, to a record $75.7 billion in the 12 months that ended on Sept. 30, 2011.
The SNAP Program is the USDA’s largest annual expense — and the agency has come under fire for not allowing taxpayers to see how funds for the program are spent. The USDA administers the food stamps program in conjunction with states.
“The dismal economic situation has put record numbers on the food stamp rolls,” Steve Ellis, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense told Newsmax. “But with record spending should come greater oversight and transparency.
"Taxpayers don't need or want to know details of each individual receiving benefits, but we do deserve to know demographics as well as how and where these benefits are being spent to ensure the most needy are receiving aid and it is spent appropriately.”
The House budget approved in April, sponsored by GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, would cut expenses for food stamps by $33 billion over 10 years, Bloomberg reports.
The program also has stalled efforts to pass a farm bill to replace the law that expired Sept. 30. In June, the Senate approved a plan that would lower SNAP expenditures by $4 billion over 10 years. The Republican-led House Agriculture Committee the next month backed a $16 billion cut in the same period.
According to USDA figures, California and Texas, the states with the nation’s largest populations, have the largest number of food-stamp recipients.
California led with 4.03 million, up 0.6 percent over last month and 6.8 percent more than a year earlier. In Texas, food stamps went to 3.98 million people, also up 0.6 percent from June, compared with a 1.8 percent decline a year earlier.
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