CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois Policy Institute, which bills itself as an independent government watchdog, has said the state of Illinois should be ashamed by the latest figures regarding how many people rely on food stamps.

According to data provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services, 1,053,277 Illinois households relied on the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in November. In all, 2,039,353 Illinois residents used SNAP benefits in November.

“This is extremely embarrassing. In fact, Illinois is the only state in the entire Midwest that has put more people on food stamps than into payroll jobs since the Great Recession ended,” said Michael Lucci, managing director of jobs and growth at the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative policy and research group.

SNAP helps low-income families buy food using the Illinois Link Card, a debit card accepted at most grocery stores.

Families qualify for SNAP benefits if their gross monthly income is no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, unless a household includes a disabled family member, or someone age 60 or older, in which case the income ceiling is 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

For example, a family of four with no seniors or disabled persons must have a gross income of no more than $2,584 per month, or about $31,000 a year. A family of six, with a senior or disabled family member, must have a gross income of no more than $5,328 per month, or approximately $64,000 a year.

SNAP benefits can only be used to buy food (excluding hot prepared meals, or food to be heated or eaten at the store) or seeds and plants for use in home gardens. Benefits cannot be used to buy vitamins, medicine, pet food, alcohol, or tobacco.

The state’s unemployment rate has improved, dropping to 6.4 percent in November, the lowest it’s been in more than six years, but Lucci said a major component is more people dropping out of the workforce entirely since 2008 than any other state except Michigan.

The IPI advocates less regulation, and lower taxes, among other things, to create more opportunities for job growth.