Food Stamp Nation: Alabama Helps Push U.S. Program to All-Time High

Alabama storms create a record demand in food stamps.

ByABC News
August 4, 2011, 11:55 AM

Aug. 4, 2011— -- Alabama is responsible for much of the 1.1 million increase in food stamp recipients after horrific storms tore through the area and led some residents to seek disaster relief, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Some 45.8 million people collected food stamps in May, up from 44 million in April, according to the USDA. That's an all-time high, up 12 percent from a year ago and an astonishing 34 percent from two years ago. Comparing May 2010 to May 2011, more than 20 states have seen double-digit percent growth in individuals seeking food assistance benefits.

"The rise in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program indicates that the economy is still in tough shape and for a lot of people the recession has not ended," Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for ConvergEx, told ABC News.

Of Alabama's more than 4.7 million residents, 1.7 million are receiving assistance for food based on figures from the USDA. The figure has more than doubled from May 2010 to May 2011 for the state's residents.

The uptick is steep in parts of the Midwest. In Illinois, food stamps have risen by 46 percent in Cook County, 133 percent in DuPage County, 84 percent in Lake County, 96 percent in Kane County, 168 percent in McHenry County and 74 percent in Will County, according to the Daily Herald.

Throughout the years the cost to maintain the program has risen due to inflation, and an increase in demand as the program sheds its stigma.

"It's clear that the historical stigma of being on food stamps is quickly eroding because there are so many people on it. People don't feel bad asking for help," says Colas.

"If people are struggling to make a mortgage payment, there's less money to spend on other things like food," says Colas. "If you think of suburban as the philosophical heartland, the fact that food stamps are on the rise in suburbia's been accepted as a program people do not feel embarrassed about accepting help."

In 2010, the program cost U.S. taxpayers $68 billion, compared with $250 million in 1969 when the program began, or $1.4 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

With Congress set to trim trillions from the federal budget over the next decade, some are speculating that the USDA may face cuts.

"I have no doubt this will be a political football next year," says Colas. "It's been rising steadily for the last three years. How it plays out politically is hard to know because a lot of people are on it now. It's obviously a popular program."

While the SNAP program could turn into a political topic, "the food stamp program does run much more directly to childhood hunger than an unemployed single program," says Colas. "If a politician wants to propose cutting food stamps they're going to run into the 20 percent of Americans using it."

Overall, 1 in 5 people in the U.S receive food stamp assistance and the average household receives $284 a month from the program.

"The growth of the food stamp program has been dramatic since the financial crisis," said Colas. While many economists say the recession has ended, he says, "for a lot of people the recession has not ended. It's no longer a program that has 5 to 10 percent we're talking about 20 percent of all households now."

"There's already more people on food stamps than there are in the U.S.'s most populous state [California] and the growth rates are still there," says Colas