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Food-Stamp Use Will Rise as Joblessness Persists, USDA Says

Chronic unemployment and federal efforts to reduce the stigma of accepting aid will push food-stamp use up from levels already at record highs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top nutrition-program official said.

The number of Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will top 40 million this year and rise further next year, Kevin Concannon, the head of the Food and Nutrition Service, said today in a media briefing in Washington. About 39.7 million Americans received food stamps in February, the most ever, the government said on May 4 in its most-recent report.

The USDA is distributing new signs at grocers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest retail-food chain, Safeway Inc. and Kroger Co. to encourage greater use of food-stamp cards. Public education is crucial to getting food to more Americans as the need for services expands, Concannon said.

“We are in an extended recession, so these programs are urgently needed,” he said. Only two-thirds of eligible Americans are receiving benefits, he said, with that proportion “marginally improving” as the USDA reaches out more aggressively to improve participation.

The number of food-stamp recipients has set records for 15 straight months, climbing 22 percent in February from a year earlier and 0.7 percent from January, the USDA said in a statement earlier this month.

An average of 40.5 million people, or more than one-eighth of the population, will get the federal benefit each month in the year that began Oct. 1, according to White House estimates. The figure is projected to rise to 43.3 million in 2011.

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