Federal spending on food stamps has doubled over the past five years, in part because of the spike in poverty during the recession. But the government is actively trying to get more people enrolled in the program:
CNN Money reports the government is continuing an outreach effort through radio ads begun during the Bush administration to get more eligible people to sign up. The USDA is using such public service announcements to target "underserved seniors, working poor, and legal immigrants"—key groups that might not understand the eligibility requirements for the program, an USDA official told CNN.
The national food-stamp participation rate was 72 percent in 2009, according to the USDA. But there are major differences between the states. In California, for instance, the participation rate is only 53 percent, whereas Maine and Oregon have close to 100 percent participation. Participation rates are particularly low among the elderly: "just three out of ten elderly in this country who qualify for benefits participate," the USDA explains. Here's a nationwide snapshot:
Increasing participation is also a way to soften the potential blow of budget cuts that the program has recently faced. Senate Democrats have managed to fend off a GOP attempt to pass major cuts to food stamps in the next year, and the $770 billion program will be rolled back by only $4 billion.