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Food Stamp Participation Increases as Economy Lags

And the number of Virginia residents in the program rose 7.5 percent, from 517,000 in July 2007 to 556,000 in July this year.

Nationally, the numbers have been rising steadily for several years, despite periodic dips. There were 25.5 million participants in July 2005; almost 26 million in July 2006; and 26.6 million in July 2007.

Food stamp use also spiked after the national economic recession of 1990-91, rising from an average of about 20 million people a month in fiscal 1990 to an average of 27 million a month in 1994 and then falling to 17 million in 2000, according to the statistics. The yearly numbers started heading up again with the recession of 2001.

The USDA's Daniel said the economic upheavals of the past few weeks, such as the 159,000 jobs the economy lost last month, probably will not be reflected until the November numbers become available in late fall.

She attributed the increases in foot stamp use to rising economic troubles, improved program outreach, and more people who are eligible deciding to participate. Only about 67 percent of those eligible take advantage of the program, she said.

She said a certain public stigma remains regarding food stamps, even though a debit card has replaced the old stamps and, as of Wednesday, the program has a new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The program, which dates to 1964, is the largest federal nutrition initiative for low-income households, according to the USDA. It is available to people with low incomes and limited resources. Almost half of the participants are children.

More information can be obtained at or by calling 1-800-221-5689.

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