More Americans Will Use Food Stamps For Thanksgiving This Year Than Ever Before

The USDA says average participation in food stamps has increased 70 percent over the last five years.

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Ohio State students fill their plates during the Thanksgiving dinner on campus.

More Americans will use food stamps to buy their Thanksgiving dinner this year than ever before, according to a new report from the nonprofit government watchdog group The Sunlight Foundation.

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The Food Stamp Challenge, which challenges higher-income families to live as if they are on food stamps, estimates that a person on food stamps has a budget of about $1.25 per meal. In other words, a family on food stamps must buy an entire meal per person for less than the cost of an average cup of coffee.

Usage of food stamps among low and no-income families has spiked since the collapse of the U.S. financial system four years ago. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, average participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp program, has increased 70 percent since 2007. And economists have warned that usage of food stamps won't go down until unemployment improves.

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This Thanksgiving, 42.2 million Americans will be on food stamps, according to the Economic Policy Institute. This is roughly the size of the populations of California and Connecticut combined.

Not surprisingly, feeding millions of Americans isn't cheap. The cost of the SNAP program last year reached $72 billion, the highest to date, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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Those costs are a source of major contention in Congress, which stalled on a bundle of legislation known as the farm bill this summer because it could not agree how much money should be spent on food stamps. The farm bill, which directs the nation's food policy, devotes about 80 percent of its budget to the food stamp program.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.