A record 46.7 million Americans are using food stamps as of June, the Agriculture Department reported Sept. 4.

The number reflects a doubling since 2003 in the number of people covered by food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to USDA.

The agency’s data about government food assistance emerged less than four days ahead of the release of Labor Department data about the nation’s payrolls.
The 46.7 million users are in 22.4 million households in a program that the USDA spent $6.2 billion to support in June, roughly $10 billion less than USDA spent to support food stamps in December 2011.

The rise in food stamp users is the latest peak in a four-year trend of food stamp use that reflects aggressive efforts by the Obama administration to ensure food stamp program participation by all who are eligible.

The rise also reflects the state of the economy, according to Anne Sheridan, director of the Maryland No Kid Hungry campaign, who told the AFRO that the dimensions of food stamp use paint “a disturbing picture” of hunger in America.

Her group provides free breakfasts to children in public school throughout Maryland. She said the food stamp use rise is consistent with the numbers of students seeking free breakfasts. More than 350,000 of the state’s 865,000 public school students qualify for free or reduced price meals, she said.

Virginia de los Santos, principal of White Oak Middle School in Montgomery County, says they have a breakfast cart near classrooms to offer a meal to any student who wants one, and she’s pleased with the results.

“The students are happy because they’re eating. There’s no stigma, because a lot of them are doing it. Everywhere you look, students eating. It’s not just the ones that pay or just the ones that get free lunch. They’re all mixed together.”
Still, Sheridan quickly pointed out, food stamp use is not a sign of government dependence. “The food stamp program is part of the social safety net the people who use it as a temporary stop gap,” she said.