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With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.
While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust.
As food stamps become an increasingly common currency in a struggling U.S. economy, they are dictating changes in how even the biggest retailers do business.
From Costco to Wal-Mart, store chains are rethinking years of strategy as they watch prized customers lose jobs and turn to this benefit, the stigma of which is disappearing not just in society, but in corporate America.