1 in 5 U.S. Households on Food Stamps, Groups Call for Transparency on how Money is Spent

Apr 25, 2013 12:36 PM EDT | By Staff Reporter

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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that a record number 23 million households are now on food stamps.

The most recent Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) statistics of the number of households receiving food stamps shows that 23,087,886 households participated in January 2013 - an increase of 889,154 families from January 2012 when the number of households totaled 22,188,732. 

The recent growth in SNAP participation is stunning; as of last summer, it doubled in size in just four years, and its growth has continued even as the economy has slowly recovered - which normally one would associate with a reduction, not an increase, in food-stamp use. A record number 47,692,896 Americans are now enrolled in the program and the cost of food stamp fraud has more than doubled in just three years.

The most recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau-- from December 2012-- puts the number of households in the United States at 115,310,000. If you divide 115,310,000 by 23,087,866, that equals one out of every five households now receiving food stamps.

Meanwhile, seven major journalism groups and open-government organizations have banded together in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release data on where and how the money is being spent.

 The feds disclose information on where beneficiaries of those programs withdraw cash using their electronic debit cards, but with SNAP, officials have declined to provide data on which retailers are benefiting and what types of products the money is spent on.

With poor diet and obesity a common factor in illness, there is no legitimate argument for keeping secret data on what food is being purchased under SNAP.

"As medical professionals and policymakers call for limits on the use of food stamps to buy ' junk food' and soft drinks, data about the type and healthfulness of food purchases is necessary to inform the discussion," the letter states.

The group includes the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors, the National Association of Science Writers, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Association of Food Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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