Food Stamp Use Up Nearly 10 Percent in 2011

Use of the program declined in only three states.

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The number of households receiving assistance via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, grew by 9.8 percent in 2011, according to a new brief from the Census Bureau. The report shows that 13 percent of households benefited from the program, up from 11.9 percent in 2010. All told, there were 14.9 million recipient households in 2011.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, food stamp usage and spending have climbed sharply over the last decade. In 2001, 17.3 million people used the program, with benefits totaling $15.5 billion. Participation climbed in 9 of the 10 subsequent years, and total benefits climbed in every year. In 2011, 44.7 million people participated, with benefits climbing to nearly $72 billion.

The District of Columbia saw the biggest jump in SNAP participation last year, with 35.3 percent more households receiving food stamp benefits than in 2010. Alabama and Hawaii saw the next largest increases, at 20.7 percent and 19.1 percent, respectively. Food stamp usage declined in only three states: Iowa (where it declined by 0.5 percent), Alaska (-0.6 percent), and Wyoming (-5.1 percent).

While 13 percent of U.S. households received SNAP benefits in 2011, those figures are very uneven by state. Oregon led the nation, with 18.9 percent of its households receiving SNAP benefits (though Puerto Rico outstrips all states, at 37.5 percent of households). Wyoming, meanwhile, has the smallest share, at 5.9 percent of households.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.