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Food stamp use is only rising

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Kai Ryssdal:If you’ve skipped some, or even most, of the umpteen Republican presidential debates this election year, first of all — I totally get it. They do kind of run together.

But in the last couple, at least, there’s been a certain through-line. A certain socio-economic angle. Here’s Newt Gingrich in South Carolina just last night.

Newt Gingrich: More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.

Marketplace’s John Dimsdale has some more context.

John Dimsdale: More than 45 million Americans got food assistance from the government last year. But anti-hunger advocates say food stamps — or SNAP, as the federal program is currently called — is not just for people on welfare.    

Paula Thornton Greear: Many of the people who are taking advantage of SNAP, or on food stamps, are indeed the working poor. 

Paula Thornton Greear with Feeding America says nearly a third of food stamp recipients have a job, but don’t earn enough to feed themselves.

Melissa Cahill is a 24-year-old single mother in Derry, N.H. She and her daughter have been receiving food stamps for five years despite Melissa’s job at a restaurant.

Melissa Cahill: I’m only working part-time right now and I pay my own rent. And bills and gas and all that stuff, I wouldn’t have any money at the end of my paycheck to buy food for me and her so it does help me out a lot.

Many food stamp recipients are eligible because of the economic downturn. Michael Foster lives in Minneapolis. He lost his job in human resources in 2009. His other benefits have run out and he survives on $200 a month in food aid.

Michael Foster: I’m caught in this black hole of the private sector doesn’t want to hire me and I would love to not be on food stamps, but without them I would starve. 

Lynn Brantley of the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington says more than half of the people showing up at her food banks have jobs — some with two or three.

Lynn Brantley: The result of the increase in food stamps is not Obama wanting to make it happen. But it’s the need that’s happening out here in the community because of lost jobs, lost wages, welfare reform.

The recession, she says, has boosted demand at some food banks by over 200 percent.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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