When Were Food Stamps Introduced?

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The Federal Food stamp program was designed to provide food to the needy. The original program (1939-1943) was enacted by Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. The program resurfaced in 1961. The current food stamp program is based on the Food Stamp Act created in 1977. Today, the program is called SNAP, which stands for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Original Food Stamp Program

During the depression, some farmers had a surplus of food, while others could not afford it. The government, under Roosevelt, began purchasing surplus food and devised a food stamp program, whereby the needy could purchase stamps for food (orange stamps) and be eligible to receive free blue stamps for surplus food. By 1943, World War II helped restore the economy, and the program ended.

1950s through 1967 History

During the 1950s, some politicians wanted to restore the food stamp program. The most note-worthy advocate was Lenore Sullivan, a congresswoman from Missouri. In 1959, she managed to get a food stamp amendment to U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) PL 480 program; it permitted, but did not require, the USDA to begin a pilot stamp food program.

President Kennedy authorized funding for a new pilot food stamp program when research demonstrated it would be more effective than the government directly providing food. The 1964 Food Act authorized 3 years of funding, growing to $200 million in 1967.

Post 1967

Research demonstrated the need for the food stamp program to continue, and the media and activists pushed for an ongoing program. In 1968, additional funds for the program were authorized, and the participant cost was further reduced; however, food stamps still were not free. Eventually, the food stamp budget increased to $1.7 billion, and households meeting eligibility requirements of fewer than $30 a month could purchase food stamps.

In December 1969, the program provided even greater benefits for families in need. Families earning up to $50 per month were able to purchase $64 worth of stamps for $20. Under the enhanced program, these same families now could purchase $106 in stamps for only $10.

The Seventies

During the 1973 recession, there was public pressure to increase the food stamp budget for food stamps, while the government was trying to reduce the program to save money. In 1977, the Carter administration finally revised the food stamp program so recipients did not have to pay for the stamps.

Modern Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program

Today’s food stamp program is called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). The program replaces physical food stamps with an Electronic Benefits Card (EBT) with which recipients can purchase food. The EBT card is expected to reduce both program costs and the fraud that occurs when participants sell the food stamps for money instead of using them for food.

According to USDA's "Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program," statistics show an increasing number of households qualify for the program each year, the majority of qualifying households have children, and one third of recipients live in homes where there is only one head of household.

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