From the Washington Post:

“Fueled by rising unemployment and food prices, the number of Americans on food stamps is poised to exceed 30 million for the first time this month, surpassing the historic high set in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

The figures will put the spotlight on hunger when Congress begins deliberations on a new economic stimulus package, said legislators and anti-hunger advocates, predicting that any stimulus bill will include a boost in food stamp benefits. Advocates are also optimistic that President-elect Barack Obama, who made campaign promises to end childhood hunger and whose mother once briefly received food stamps, will make the issue a priority next year.

“We soon will have the most food stamps recipients in the history of our country,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a D.C.-based anti-hunger policy organization. “If the economic forecasts come true, we’re likely to see the most hunger that we’ve seen since the 1981 recession and maybe since the 1960s, when these programs were established.” (…)

To qualify for the food stamp program, whose name was officially changed last month to the Simplified Nutrition Assistance Program, recipients must have an income below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $27,564 for a family of four. The benefits, which average $109.93 a month per person, are based on a plan set by the government to represent a low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet. Participants apply locally to receive an electronic card that is used like an ATM card to buy food at most grocery stores and some farmers markets. The maximum benefit for a household of four is $588 a month.”

This might be a good time to point out that charities of all kinds, including food banks, typically get hammered during recessions, since people have less money to give. And, of course, during recessions, they are needed more than ever.

And, as Andrew Sabl pointed out a few days ago, charity isn’t just good for your soul and good for other people, it’s good for the economy:

“Macroeconomics does funny things to morality. In a recession, saving your pennies harms the economy. Many these days quote Keynes’ “paradox of thrift,” and rightly so. Each of us, by virtuously delaying gratification, harms the economy as a whole. We’d all do better if we collectively acted worse. (As Keynes once wrote, ineffectively, “the patient does not need rest. He needs exercise.”)

So, to promote short-term growth, greedy consumption is good. Sort of. Though universal self-denial is bad, universal charity would, as far as I know, be macroeconomically terrific. If you can spare money for a plasma TV, giving the price of a TV to a food bank instead would create just as much consumption–more, actually, since the government kicks in a subsidy through the tax system.”

You can find the American Institute of Philanthropy’s top-rated charities for dealing with hunger here, and Charity Navigator’s here.

I know I’ve said this before, but: as we head into tough times, I think we’re going to need all the generosity and social solidarity we can manage.

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