Many states have used funds from the $863 billion U.S. economic stimulus plan to help give a rising number of poor families emergency cash assistance, the Government Accountability Office said on Thursday.

From June 2008 to June 2009, the number of families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families rose in 12 of the 21 states the GAO reviewed and dropped in six states. But, it said, the magnitude of those taking the direct cash grants varied widely, with Nevada experiencing a 22 percent increase in need and Texas seeing a 9 percent drop.

The economic stimulus plan passed last year included the largest transfer of funds from the U.S. government to states in U.S. history and the GAO found states used some of the money to help citizens living in the deepest poverty.

As of October 2009, all 21 states in the GAO survey had applied to the plan's Emergency Contingency Fund for help in making the cash payments.

Showing the depth of distress caused by the recession that began at the end of the 2007, the number of two-parent families receiving the aid increased in 17 states, the government's auditing arm said. The median increase was 27 percent, far more than for other types of families.

While the number of two-parent families as a portion of all families receiving assistance was small, the increase in this population of cash assistance recipients is notable because they are the least common type of recipient group, the GAO said.

The cash payments are part of the country's sweeping welfare reforms from the 1990's. Each month, eligible families receive grants that are capped, and many states will reduce or withhold those payments if adults do not meet certain work requirements. There is also a 60-months limit on how long a person may receive the cash over a lifetime.

Some states, too, have their own cash assistance programs.

Since 1996, the number of families receiving assistance has dropped, but GAO said this was not simply because poverty had eased. It said a large number of families who were eligible for the grants opted out.

GAO also said that the percentage of children living in poverty fell to 16 percent in 2000 from 21 percent in 1995. But the recession pushed that rate back up to 19 percent in 2008.