An unprecedented 46.7 million Americans used food stamps in June, giving ammunition to Republicans who say President Obama has led more Americans to rely on government help.
The figure marks a nearly 66 percent increase since 2008. The financial crisis has pushed more Americans into using food stamps, and the stimulus package championed by the Obama administration increased the maximum value of benefits.
In a statement emailed to Bloomberg news, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (the food stamp program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is administered by the Department of Agriculture) said the increased enrollment was a necessary outcome of the still-ailing economy.
"Too many middle-class families who have fallen on hard times are still struggling," Vilsack said. "Our goal is to get these families the temporary assistance they need so they are able to get through these tough times and back on their feet as soon as possible."
Republicans have regularly invoked the rising number of Americans who use food stamps a sign of Obama's failed economic policies. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich provoked a backlash in December when he called Obama "the best food stamp president in American history," drawing accusations of racial intolerance.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has also taken aim at food stamp usage, pushing to avert planned military cuts in part by slashing billions of dollars from the program through reduced benefits and tightened eligibility requirements. Congress has struggled to pass a new farm bill because of disagreement between the two parties over the amount of money that should be allocated for TANF.
Democrats have defended food stamps as a crucial and effective form of stimulus, while Republicans have seized on the issue as another emblem of what they see as a massive expansion of entitlement programs under the Obama administration.
That perception has motivated Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to begin falsely asserting, in advertisements and speeches, that Obama has eviscerated requirements that welfare recipients seek work. The claim has been widely debunked, but it is consistent with the Republican Party's criticism that Obama has promoted a culture of big-government dependency.