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Originally published September 4, 2012 at 7:25 PM | Page modified September 5, 2012 at 4:33 PM

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Record 46.7 million using food stamps, USDA reports

Participation was up 0.4 percent from May and 3.3 percent higher than a year earlier and has remained greater than 46 million all year as the unemployment rate stayed higher than 8 percent.

Bloomberg News

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WASHINGTON — Food-stamp use reached a record 46.7 million people in June, the government said Tuesday. Participation was up 0.4 percent from May and 3.3 percent higher than a year earlier and has remained greater than 46 million all year as the unemployment rate stayed higher than 8 percent. New jobless numbers will be released Sept. 7.

"Too many middle-class families who have fallen on hard times are still struggling," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "Our goal is to get these families the temporary assistance they need so they are able to get through these tough times and back on their feet as soon as possible."

Food-stamp spending, which more than doubled in four years to a record $75.7 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2011 is the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) biggest annual expense. Republicans in Congress have criticized the cost of the program, and the House budget plan approved in April sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party's vice-presidential nominee, would cut costs by $33 billion over 10 years.

Reductions to the program also have emerged as a point of contention in debate over a farm bill to replace the law that expires Sept. 30. The Senate in June passed a plan that would lower expenditures by $4 billion over 10 years, while the House Agriculture Committee the following month backed a $16 billion cut.

Spending on what's officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program totaled $6.21 billion in June, 0.4 percent higher than the previous month and 2.8 percent more than a year earlier. The record is $6.26 billion spent in September 2011.

About 47 percent of recipients are children, and 8 percent are elderly, according to the USDA. About half of all new recipients leave the program within 10 months.

During the Republican primary campaign, then-candidate Newt Gingrich labeled Obama as "the best food-stamp president in American history." When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called his statements "inaccurate" and "divisive," Gingrich dismissed the complaints as a smear from "modern liberals" who are "off the deep end."

Food-stamp enrollment is rising partly because the USDA is pushing higher participation too aggressively, giving government money to people who may not need or want it, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

"This administration has been hawking food stamps," said Sessions, who has called for lower spending on the program. "Every additional dollar in this program is borrowed money," he said. "It's one more example of government incompetence."

Tuesday's report shows the two most populous states, California and Texas, had the most recipients. California was tops with 4.012 million, a 0.8 percent gain from the previous month and 7.3 percent more than the previous year. Texas was in second place, while down 0.4 percent from the previous month and 1.4 percent lower than a year earlier.

Louisiana and North Carolina, where Democrats are meeting this week to nominate Obama, had the biggest monthly gains in enrollment, 1.3 percent. Enrollment fell the most in Utah, followed by Idaho and Ohio.

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