By Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Individual participation in the federal government’s food stamp program for the needy jumped by almost a million people during the second quarter of 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.
The latest agriculture department statistics indicate that, nationally, participation rose from 28,084,116 in April to 29,053,054 in July, the last month for which the figures are available, a department spokeswoman said this week.
The July figure is the highest since the all-time peak of 29,847,640 recipients in November of 2005, in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, spokeswoman Jean Daniel said. She said that in addition to the general economic downtown, the current numbers likely reflect specific challenges — such as the spring flooding in the Midwest — that were at work in the early summer and spring. There often is a delay of a few months after a crisis before people sign up for the program, Daniel said. Daniel said the most recent economic upheavals, like the ongoing crisis in the financial sector and the 159,000 jobs the economy lost last month, would probably not be reflected until the November numbers become available in late fall.
In addition to rising economic troubles, Daniel attributed some of the jump in numbers to improved program outreach, and decisions of more eligible recipients to participate.
She said there remains a certain public stigma regarding food stamps, even though a debit card has now replaced the old stamps and, as of Wednesday, the program has a new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.