Federal Food Stamp Laws


The Food Stamp Act of 1964 was enacted to strengthen the agricultural economy, provide nutritional support to low-income families and to make practical, effective use of food surpluses. To facilitate these activities, the Food Stamp Act established a federal-state cooperative effort to fund and implement the aspects of the act. This program provides vouchers (currently in the form of debit cards) to the eligible applicant in specific dollar amounts to be used exclusively for the purchase of food.

The Program

  • The Secretary of Agriculture is tasked with the development and maintenance of a program that will, through state agencies, provide to eligible households food vouchers (stamps) to supplement their normal food budgets. The food stamps will only have a monetary value when used to purchase food. The food stamp program will allow consumers to purchase seeds for the purpose of growing your own food as well.

Eligibility and Income

  • Each state agency sets its own standards regarding income and asset limitations for program eligibility. In general, these limits will be set very close to the local poverty estimate. For example, in the state of New Hampshire, a household is limited to $2,000 per month in total resources. If the household includes a disabled member or a person over 60 years of age, the limit is $3,000 per month. These standards set by each state are regularly audited for approval by the Secretary of Agriculture.

    In addition, state agencies are audited to ensure there are no acts of negligence or discrimination in implementing the food stamp program. If issues are identified, the state agency has a probationary time period to address them. If they have not resolved the areas of concern within that time, the office can be shut down and food stamp distribution halted.

Food Stamps and Retailers

  • Grocers and other food retailers must apply for authorization to accept food stamps. The office of the Secretary of Agriculture evaluates applicants based on:

    The nature of the retail or wholesale food business of the applicant,
    The volume of food stamp business the applicant might expect
    The business integrity and reputation of the applicant.

    Once approved, food retailers or wholesalers can be disqualified if they violate any provision of the act.

Violations and Penalties

  • If anyone knowingly uses, allows someone else to use, sells, or steals food stamps of more than $100 in value, he will be found guilty of a felony and can be fined up to $10,000 and/or serve up to five years in jail. If the amount is less than $100 in value, the charge is considered a misdemeanor, and the offender can be fined up to $5,000 and/or serve up to one year in jail.

Other Considerations

  • Every year, Congress approves funding for the food stamp program. Despite the fact that the primary of the three principals of this act is the support of the agricultural economy, funds for this program are legislated under government welfare concerns, not agricultural price support programs (subsidies).


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