New research shows that millions of people in the U.S. didn't have enough food last year.

The news: More than 49 million people didn’t have enough food in 2008, an increase of 13 million people to reach a record high, according to a new survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture using U.S. Census data.

Behind the news: Many people in Illinois qualify for food stamps and don’t get them.

An estimated $85 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits went unclaimed in Chicago in 2007, according to a September report released by the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington, D.C.-based food policy group.

An estimated 141,843 people in Chicago qualified for food stamps in 2007 but didn’t get them, according to the same report. Some experts think they know why.

“The [Illinois Department of Human Services] offices are understaffed at the same time that the number of households who are seeking help has skyrocketed,” said Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition.

“People are frustrated because they have to come back to apply and wait to get an interview, which is a requirement for food stamps,” she said.

In addition, more people are applying, including the newly unemployed and those re-enrolling for another benefit cycle.

“I think it’s pretty clear the need has gone up,” said Evelyn Brodkin, a political science professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. It’s unclear if the food stamp system can handle the increased case-load, Brodkin said.

On top of that, the food policy group’s report shows more people need food. Nationwide, 20 percent of all people sampled said they worried they’d run out of food before getting more money. The response is reflected in the number of visits to area food pantries–” which increased by 26 percent from July through September, said Bob Dolgan, a spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.