When the new U.S. Congress is sworn in in January, one of the first orders of business will be a new economic stimulus package. Legislators and analysts say a stimulus bill will likely include an increase in food assistance and food stamp subsidies. The number of Americans in need of food assistance is at an all time high.

Some U.S. families experience financial difficulty

Times are tough. But Carrie Ray Black has a lot to be thankful for this Christmas.

She is a single working mother in the central state of Kentucky. She has two children and is going to school three days a week to earn a nursing degree.

Returning to school means she has a smaller monthly income. After paying her monthly bills, there was not enough money left to feed her family. So she applied for food stamps.

"Sometimes the food is the last part and you have to stretch the little money you get for food," Ray said. "So, that is when I found out I needed assistance.

Food Stamp Program

Food stamps are funded by the federal government. They provide food assistance to poor and low income families. Many recipients are single working mothers.  

The stamps once resembled postage stamps, but today, the money is distributed on electronic cards.

The U.S. government says the number of Americans using food stamps recently rose over 30 million for the first time. In September, the number reached 31.5 million. Government figures indicate as many as 36 million people in America have difficulty putting food on the table.

Food banks help families in need

Lexington Kentucky is a moderate-size city known for its horse farms and ties to the horse racing industry. God's Pantry Food Bank in Lexington offers food assistance in 49 counties across the state.  

It is one of 204 food bank systems that serve every county of the nation.

It receives its food supply from major U.S. cereal and other manufacturers. It offers food to those who do not receive federal help and to those who need more than the food stamp program provides.

Volunteer coordinator Mandy Brahuha says the food bank used to serve 800 families a month. This month, 1,900 families are requesting assistance.

Number of people needing help growing

Mrs. Brahuha says what they are seeing in Kentucky mirrors national trends. "It is a different type of client than we are use to seeing. It is not just people on disability or regular food stamp people," she said. "These are people that have never had to reach out for help before."

People like Michael Martin and his family. After working for 11 years for a utility company, he was laid off. He has been seeking work for four months. "I want to work. I have been looking for work. I will rake leaves and do anything for work," said Martin. "I'll even downgrade in pay. I just want to pay my bills; I don't want people to help me."

When his family had almost nothing to eat for two weeks, he applied for food stamps.

Michael said the worst part is the shame he feels. "I am just ashamed," he said. "I mean, when I go into a grocery store and you pay for stuff [with food stamps], and people look at you like ... they look at you different."

Analysts predict that unemployment in the U.S. could rise to 8 percent by the end of 2009. And the number of people needing food assistance will also rise.