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Thu Apr 2, 2009 5:11pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A record 32.2 million people -- one in every 10 Americans -- received food stamps at the latest count, the government said on Thursday, a reflection of the recession now in its 16th month.
Food stamps, the major U.S. anti-hunger program, help poor people buy groceries. The average benefit was $112.82 per person in January.
The January figure marks the third time in five months that enrollment set a record.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in February, the highest in 25 years. Weekly claims for jobless benefits totaled 669,000 last week, the highest in 26 years, the government said on Thursday.
Food stamp enrollment rose in 46 of the 50 states during January as the national total rose by 580,000 people, or 1.3 percent, from December, when the previous record was set, said Agriculture Department figures.
Vermont, Alaska and South Dakota had increases of more than 5 percent. Texas had the largest enrollment, 2.984 million, down 65,000, followed by California at 2.545 million, up 43,000, and New York with 2.211 million, up 37,000.
"It is a very difficult time for low-income families and individuals and also a difficult time for the groups that serve them," said Valentine Breitbarth of Bread for the City, a group that works with poor families in Washington.