The number of Americans on food stamps is nearing a record, 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.

The Department of Agriculture is set to release the new numbers.

Agency officials outlined them in a briefing for advocates and administrators of state food stamp programs.

The figures will be put in the spotlight on the hunger issue when Congress begins deliberations on a new economic stimulus package.

President-elect Barack Obama made a 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.

Breaking the symbolically important 30 million mark comes on the heels of government data that showed that 11.9 million people went hungry in America at some point last year.

That figure included nearly 700,000 children, up more than 50 percent from the year before.

Food pantries and other charitable organizations are also reporting an increase in demand.

Visits to local pantries are up anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent over the last six months.

To qualify for food stamps program, whose name officially changed last month to the Simplified Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), recipients must have an income below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $27,560 for a family of four.

The benefits, which average about $4 per person per day, are based on a plan set by the government to represent a low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet.

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