WASHINGTON – Half of the nation’s eligible poor aren’t getting the food stamps to which they’re entitled, a study released Tuesday found.

The District of Columbia had the highest participation rate in 2004, at 71.8 percent, while Missouri ranked first among the 50 states in getting food stamps to its low-income residents. Nevada ranked last among states, with 32 percent of its eligible residents getting food stamps.

Overall, 50.2 percent of the nation’s qualified poor received food stamps in 2004, according to the study by the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group that examines the local impact of federal budget policies.

“We’ve got over 35 million people in this country struggling to get enough food to eat, and 50 percent of all low-income people are not receiving the benefit that is intended to alleviate this food insecurity,” said Greg Speeter, the project’s executive director. “While the food-stamp program provides a vital service, clearly too many people are still going without.”

After Missouri, the states with the highest participation rates were Tennessee, Maine, West Virginia and Oklahoma. After Nevada, the states with the lowest participation rates were Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.

The food-stamp program, founded in 1964 and run by the Department of Agriculture, is the largest of the federal government’s food and nutrition programs. In 2004, the program cost $28.6 billion, or 1.2 percent of total federal spending, and served 23.2 million people, according to the study.

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