NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Participation in the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, reached an all-time high in January.

The number of SNAP recipients nationwide ticked up to 44.2 million in January, 2011, or about one in seven Americans, from 44.1 million in December, 2010, according to data released by the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service on Friday.

The number of recipients grew by 4.8 million from 39.4 million recorded in January last year, and 32 million in the same month in 2009.

The total cost related to the food stamp program dropped about $21.4 million to $5.87 billion from a month earlier, as the average monthly benefit for each recipient in January decreased slightly to $132.81 from $133.61 in December, 2010.

The overall cost of the program in January 2011 was up $614.6 million to $5.87 billion from $5.25 billion in the same month a year before.

The total number of U.S. households in SNAP in January 2011 climbed above 20.7 million from just below that level in the month prior and 18.1 million in the same period in 2010.

The U.S. Food and Nutrition Service said the total number of persons enrolled in SNAP in fiscal 2011 sits at 43.8 million, up from 40.3 million in 2010 and 33.5 million in 2009.

-- Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.

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