Americans to pay for Thanksgiving dinner with food stamps in record numbers

People fill out state forms for food stamps. (AFP Photo / Spencer Platt)
While some will spend Thanksgiving and days after it feasting on turkeys, 13 percent of Americans will rely on food stamps to avoid going to sleep hungry this holiday season.

About 42.2 million Americans will eat on a budget of $1 to $1.25 per meal this Thanksgiving as the number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program remains high, found a new report by The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit government watchdog group. The number of Americans relying on food stamps this Thanksgiving is equal to the populations of California and Connecticut combined.

The latest data from the US Department of Agriculture shows that 47.1 million Americans relied on food stamps in August – the highest number yet.

Since 2007, participation in the food stamp program has skyrocketed, increasing by 70 percent. The cost of feeding the approximately 44.7 million Americans who relied on food stamps last year cost the US government a record $72 billion.

But the high number of Americans dependent on the nutrition assistance in a struggling economy is not the only problem the US faces this Thanksgiving. This past summer’s record-breaking drought has taken a toll on the food industry, causing prices to skyrocket while supplies remain low – making it even more difficult to provide Thanksgiving-style food to low-income families.

In Framingham, Mass., a turkey shortage at a food pantry will leave some families without a typical Thanksgiving feast, CBS News reports. Food pantries, or food banks, are non-profit, charitable organizations that distribute food to people in need.

The Pearl Street Cupboard and Café, a food bank that delivers, is facing a turkey shortage and the highest demand it has ever seen. Requests from low-income individuals are up by 400 percent since last year.

“These are folks you wouldn’t normally expect to be needing help, on top of those always in need, it’s a big group and a big deal,” Paul Mina, president of United Way Tri-County, which runs the food pantry, told CBS. Mina’s group has launched a “Feed-A-Family for Fifty” campaign that aims to provide more than 3,000 turkeys between now and Christmas with money from donations.

“Most people don’t think that a Thanksgiving meal over the holiday is a luxury,” he said.  “But for the families we serve it is.”

With more Americans on food stamps than in previous years and financially struggling families unable to purchase a regular-priced turkey, this Thanksgiving could leave many with less to be thankful for. Officials have warned that food stamp participation will not go down until the economy improves. And after the recent Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the Northeast and tore away coastal homes, even more Americans are relying on food stamps to get by.