We may all be very familiar with the food stamp program in the United States of America. But do we know about the very First Food Stamp Program? We do have ideas about how the food stamp program has been of great benefit to the citizens in the country who find it difficult to feed themselves by helping them purchase healthy and nutritious food. Let us go back in time to how it all started.
First Food Stamp Program
The idea for the creation of the First Food Stamp Program has been credited to different people. Amongst these people, one of the very notable persons is the Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, and Milo Perkins as the first-ever administrator of the program. This administrator in very brief words summed up the program, saying, “We got a picture of a gorge with farm surpluses on one cliff and under-nourished city folks with outstretched hands on the other. We set out to find a practical way to build a bridge across that chasm.”
This statement was made because, at about that year, the nation was facing a tragic paradox: when the nation had its worst economic downturn in history that lasted from 1929 to 1939. This led to Americans suffering from hunger, lack of money, and eventually excess food in the nation.
In other words, the First Food Stamp Program was initially created as a relief program for undernourished citizens in the country. The first recipient of the program was a man named Mabel McFiggin from Rochester, New York on May 16, 1939, while the first retailer to redeem the stamps was Joseph Mutolo. The very first retailer caught violating program rules of the program was Nick Salzano in October 1939.
When Was The First Food Stamp Program Established
Unarguably and obviously, the very First Food Stamp Program was established in 1939. This establishment was done under the leadership of the above mentioned Secretary of Agriculture and the first administrator.
After the creation, the First Food Stamp Program thrived for nearly four (4) years. At the peak of the program, it catered for four million people in the country. During the course of these years, the program reached approximately twenty (20) million people in nearly half of the counties in the United State of America.
After these times, the First Food Stamp Program ended in the spring of 1943. This was because the conditions that brought about the creation of the program: which was widespread unemployment and unmarketable food surpluses, no longer existed.
Paper Food Stamps
The First Food Stamp Program operated by permitting people on relief to buy orange stamps and gain blue stamps. The paper food stamps were the tickets to redeeming the benefits of the program. These benefits were the farm produce made available by the program.
The orange stamps were used to buy any food items like groceries except for drugs, liquor, etc. The blue stamps were used to buy food items that have been determined by the Agriculture Department in charge of the food items in the program to be surplus. These surplus food items are most often dairy products, fresh vegetables, eggs, prunes, and citrus fruits. For every $1 of orange stamps purchased, blue stamps worth 50 cents were received.
Food Stamp Act Of 1964
After the First Food Stamp Program, another Food Stamp Program was created. This was called the Pilot Food Stamp Program in 1961 through to 1963. By January 1964, the program has expanded to 43 counties in 22 states with about 380 000 participants.
On the 31st of January, 1964, the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson requested Congress to pass legislation making the Food Stamp Program permanent. A proposed legislation to establish a permanent Food Stamp Program which had been submitted by Secretary Orville Freeman on the 17th of April, 1963 was eventually introduced. This bill has been passed by Congress and was introduced by Congresswoman Sullivan.
The Food stamp Act of 1964 official purposes were strengthening the agricultural economy and also providing improved levels of nutrition among low-income households. Nonetheless, the practical purpose was to bring the Pilot Food Stamp Program under Congressional control and implement the regulations into law.
The major provisions of the Food stamp Act of 1964 were;
- Requirements for state plan operation and eligibility standard by the states in the country;
- They required that recipients buy their food stamps themselves, paying an amount commensurate with their normal food expenditure and receiving an amount of food stamps representing the opportunity to obtain a low cost nutritionally adequate diet;
- Prohibitions against discrimination on bases of race, religious creed, national origin or political beliefs;
- They established eligibility for the kind of food items purchased with the food stamps intended for human consumption except alcoholic beverages and imported foods;
- Division of responsibilities between states (in terms of certification and issuance) and Federal Government (in terms of funding of the benefits of the program and authorization of retailers and wholesalers) with the shared responsibility for funding cost of the administration; and
- Appropriated for the very first year funding limited to $75 million, the second year limited to $100 million and the third year limited to $200 million.
The Agriculture Department estimated that the Food Stamp Program would eventually reach about 4 million people at a cost of $360 million annually. This is far below the actual numbers
Food Stamp Act Of 1977
The time-space of 1964 and 1977, the Food Stamp Program has been through a lot of changes, shaping of the administration and several milestones. In 1977, both the outgoing Republican administration and the new Democratic Administration offered Congress proposed legislation to reform the Food Stamp Program. This bill stressed on targeting benefits to the neediest, simplifying administration, and also tightening controls on the program. This is the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977.
Amidst all the themes of the bill, the one that became the rallying cry for the Food Stamp Program reform was the EPR. This means Eliminate the Purchase requirement. This is because the purchase requirement was a barrier to participation in the program. The purchase requirement was eliminated.
The Food stamp act of 1977 also brought about the;
- Elimination of categorical eligibility;
- Establishment of statutory income eligibility guidelines at the poverty line;
- Establishment of ten categories of excluded income;
- Reduction in the number of deductions used to calculate the net income and also establishment of a standard deduction as replacements for elimination deductions;
- Establishment of fair market value test for evaluating vehicle as resources;
- Raising the general resource limit to $1 750;
- Penalizing households whose heads voluntarily quit jobs;
- Establishment of job search requirement for nonexempt work registrants;
- Restricting eligibility for students and aliens (foreigners);
- Elimination of the requirement that a household must have cooking facilities;
- Replacement of store due bills with cash change up to 99cents;
- Establishment of the principle that stores must sell a substantial amount of staple foods if they are to be authorized by the program;
- Establishment of ground rules for Indian Tribal Organization administration for the Food Stamp Program on reservations; and
- Introduction of demonstration project authority.
The Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 also included several access provisions. They are;
- Allowing the use of telephones, mail or home visits for certifications;
- Requirements for outreach, bilingual personnel and material and nutrition education materials;
- Establishment of recipients’ right to submit applications the first day they attempt to do so;
- Establishment of a 30-day processing standard and inception of the concept of expedited service;
- The Establishment of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) joint processing and coordination with Aid to families with dependent children (AFDC);
- Establishment of notice, recertification and retroactive benefit protections; and
- Requirements of states to develop a disaster plan.
The integrity provisions of the new program included disqualifications in terms of fraud, enhanced Federal funding for states’ anti-fraud activities, and financial incentives for low error rates. The EPR was implemented on the 1st of January, 1979. And the participation in that month increased by 1.5 million over the preceding month.
It was not until late 2008, that the renaming of the program happened. The program was renamed officially from Food Stamp Program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and implemented in October 2008. This renaming brought about the replacement of food stamps and coupons with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards containing benefits from the program.