Food-Stamp Use Cited in Presidential Debate Climbs to Record

A record 46.68 million Americans received food stamps in July, the government said as presidential candidates debate the economy and federal aid.

Participation was up by 11,532 from June and 2.9 percent higher than a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday in a report on its website. The number rose partly because of local weather disasters in Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia, the USDA said. The total has topped 46 million since September 2011.

“When you have a difficult recession -- as one as deep as we 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 said in an interview last week.

Monthly spending on food stamps reached $6.26 billion, also a record and 2.9 percent more than a year earlier. The program’s cost more than doubled in four years to a record $75.7 billion in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2011 and is the department’s biggest annual expense. This week, in the first debate between presidential candidates, Republican Mitt Romney cited the program’s growth as evidence of what he said are the failing economic policies of President Barack Obama.

Status Quo

“When the president took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today,” Romney said. “Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today.”

Food-stamp enrollment in January 2009 was 31.98 million, according to the USDA.

The House budget approved in April, sponsored by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney’s vice presidential running mate, would cut expenses for food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $33 billion over 10 years.

The program also has ensnared efforts to pass a farm bill to replace the law that expired Sept. 30. The Senate in June approved a plan that would lower expenditures by $4 billion over 10 years. The Republican-led House Agriculture Committee in July backed a $16 billion cut in the same period.

The report shows California and Texas, the states with the largest population, having the most recipients. California led with 4.03 million, a 0.6 percent increase from the previous month and 6.8 percent more than a year earlier. Food stamps went to 3.98 million Texans, up 0.6 percent from June while 1.8 percent lower than a year earlier.

Hawaii, with a 10 percent rise, and Florida, with a 9.6 percent gain, had the biggest year-over-year increases. The largest decline was in North Dakota, where enrollment fell 8 percent, followed by Utah.

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