Food Stamps in the U.S.

The food stamp program, now known as SNAP, is an aid program provided by the U.S. government. Its purpose has been to ensure that citizens and people legally living in the U.S. are able to feed their families. Since it was originally founded it has become an often controversial topic amongst political parties. The best way to understand both the negative and positive concerns that are associated with the program is to educate oneself on the subject. Learning about the history of the food stamp program, or SNAP, will help people to better understand its purpose as well as how it has changed since its inception.

The history of food stamps began in the late 1930s. The Great Depression plagued the country, and hunger was one of its most severe consequences. In efforts to help the millions of Americans struggling to feed themselves and their families, the first Food Stamp program was created and went into effect on May 1939 in Rochester, New York. The original food stamp program involved the actual use of stamps. The stamps, which were orange in color, were purchased by the individual to help him or her purchase food and household items. The person would purchase food stamps to equal their usual food expenditures. For every dollar worth of orange stamps purchased, the person was given half the amount back in the form of blue stamps. This was for the purchase of specific surplus food items only. By the time the original program came to an end in the spring of 1943, the number of people participating was at four million and the program was found in every state with the exception of West Virginia.

The second phase in the history of food stamps took place eighteen years later. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy fulfilled a campaign pledge and began an experimental food stamp pilot program to help counter the recession. The program continued with the theme of purchasing stamps; however, surplus food stamps were eliminated. By 1964 there were 380,000 participants in twenty-two states; however, a national program was not implemented until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed to law the Food Stamp Act of 1964 on August 31, 1964. With the signing of the law the Food Stamp Program was officially under the control of Congress. In September of 1977 the Food Stamp Act of 1977 was signed by President Jimmy Carter. There were several changes associated with this Act, most notably eliminating the purchase requirement associated with food stamps. This Act also set other guidelines in terms of eligibility and food stamp income guidelines. In the early 80s Congress began to make changes to the program which they felt had become too expensive. Food stamp income guidelines further changed with the addition of gross income qualification testing and retirement accounts were counted as income for seniors. During the mid to late 80s however, improvements were made to the program in efforts to meet the country's severe problems with hunger. One of the improvements made it so that food stamp purchases were no longer subject to sales tax.

Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, came about as a result of the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, which became a law in September of that year. EBT allows people on the program to electronically authorize the transfer of their benefits to a retailer for the payment of products. It was started as a pilot project in attempts to improve efficiency. Currently EBT is in effect in all 50 states, including Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. This system eliminates coupons made of paper, which were easily lost, stolen, or illegally sold. In 2008 the name of the program was changed to SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This name change was a part of the 2008 Farm Bill signed by President George W. Bush. This change was meant to eliminate the stigma associated with food stamps, and to also place more focus on healthy and nutritious food.

To meet current SNAP eligibility requirements a household must have gross incomes that fall below 130 percent of the poverty line. A household, when it comes to food stamps, is defined as a group of people who live and purchase food together. This excludes members who are disabled or elderly. It may also refer to an individual. The net income of the household must be below the poverty line. In most instances, the household may have countable resources that are up to $2000. Checking accounts, bonds, or savings accounts are considered countable resources. This goes up to $3250 if one member of the household has a disability or is over the age of 60. SNAP eligibility for immigrants includes living in the country for five years, being a child under the age of 18, or a person receiving disability benefits.

Since originally put to use in the 1930s, food stamps have proven to be a beneficial service and has met the needs of people in dire financial situations. It continues to meet its original purpose of reducing starvation and extreme hunger in the United States. Over time changes have been made and the program streamlined to become more efficient and reduce the possibility of fraud. By understanding the history of food stamps, people will be able to understand the future of the program, and how changes can affect people who are in need of it.

For more information about the history of SNAP, please see the following links.