The history of food stamps in the United States began in 1939. Now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food stamp program history continues to change to meet the hunger needs facing low-income individuals today.
The program is frequently addressed by Congress and the President of the United States to improve impoverished citizens’ access to nutritious foods and health-improving programs. Food stamp statistics provide a clear picture of the evolution of food stamp changes through the decades since it began.
Keep reading to learn about SNAP history and new food stamp rules that influence how people can access this valuable resource.
America’s first food stamp program began when Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace and administrator Milo Perkins devised a program for people living in poverty who were already receiving some form of relief program. This first step in food stamp program history used the sale of orange and blue paper stamps to increase low-income families’ food purchasing power. Buyers of these food stamps could use orange stamps to buy any food product. For every $1 orange stamp bought, 50 cents worth of blue stamps were also provided.
Blue food stamps were only redeemable for food that was considered farmer surplus. The program took off because farmers could use up their surplus food stores, and hungry people had open access to extra food. The first food stamp program was so successful that it ended in spring 1943 because it had effectively solved the problems of farmer food surplus and high hunger rates due to unemployment.
In the 1960s, President Kennedy called for an expansion of the food stamp program, effectively launching changes that would become the foundation of today’s SNAP program. President Johnson was responsible for the Food Stamp Act of 1964 that required all states to create a program with non-discrimination policies to ensure fair distribution of benefits.
SNAP history continued to evolve through the 1970s and 1980s, with economic downturns driving increases in food stamp program participation. Important SNAP program acts passed during these decades included the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 and the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988.
During the late 1990s, SNAP history evolved with the development of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card program. By 2004, all states were required to issue SNAP program benefits via these plastic cards instead of printed paper food stamps. EBT cards made a significant impact on the food stamps program, as it reduced benefit trafficking from 4 percent to around 1 percent, saving millions of dollars. The improvement of SNAP program education initiatives was also a hallmark of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
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President Obama made significant food stamp changes during his administration. Between 2008 and 2016, multiple food stamps law changes were made that resulted in record-high participation of 47.6 million people.
Politicians, economists, social service workers and others have historically studied food stamp program statistics carefully to help the program provide assistance where it is most needed. Food stamp program cost factors, participant demographics and links to natural disasters are all areas of SNAP studies. Interesting facts include the following:
Within the past 10 years, food stamp changes have been implemented to streamline and improve the way that benefits are delivered to recipients. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 boosted the existing SNAP-Ed health and nutrition education programs and set new food stamp rules related to school nutrition programs.
In 2012, President Obama loosened requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) who apply for food assistance. This food stamp change helped low-income ABAWDs make it through the economic downturn of that period of time.
The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, made food stamp program changes, including launching the idea of using mobile devices to redeem SNAP benefits. Pilot programs to test mobile device redemption of benefits could set off significant food stamp changes over the next decade. The Act also expanded SNAP program retailers to include government agencies and non-profit organizations that deliver food to housebound elderly and disabled low-income SNAP program participants.
Recent improvements in the economy and falling unemployment levels have resulted in a steady decline in food stamp program participation. In September 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released food stamps news updates that reported that 39.3 million people receiving SNAP program benefits.
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