When Were Food Stamps Created: A Brief History

We all know that food is essential to live, but not everyone has access to it. This was the case for millions of Americans during the mid-20th century. The Great Depression had left many people jobless and hungry, and the problem only got worse with World War II. However, in 1939 the United States government came up with a solution to help those in need – food stamps.

It might be hard to imagine now, but back in the 1930s and 40s, hunger was a real issue in America. People didn’t have the means to put food on their tables, and the government was struggling to find a way to feed them all. That’s where the idea of food stamps came in. These vouchers allowed people to buy food at participating stores, and they were distributed to those with low incomes based on a set of criteria.

The program started small, with just a few states implementing food stamps, but it quickly grew in popularity. By the 1960s, food stamps were being used by millions of Americans. Over the years, the program has evolved, with new rules and regulations being put in place. But the idea behind it remains the same – to help those in need get the food they need to survive. Today, food stamps are known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and they continue to play a vital role in fighting hunger in America.

The History of Food Stamps in the United States

In the midst of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, hunger was rampant in the United States. As a response, various private organizations and local governments started to offer food assistance to individuals and families in need. However, it wasn’t until 1939 that the federal government officially entered the picture by launching the first national food stamp program.

  • The first food stamp program was a pilot launched by the federal government in 1939 under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • The program allowed participating individuals to purchase orange stamps, which could be used to buy any food item except for alcohol and imported products. The orange stamps could be purchased at a discount and had a monetary value of double the purchase price.
  • The program was deemed a success, but it was temporary and only lasted until 1943 due to World War II and rising food prices.

It wasn’t until several decades later, in the 1960s, that food stamps would become a permanent fixture in the United States’ social safety net.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s administration proposed a federal food stamp program as part of a broader effort to fight poverty and unemployment. The proposal was met with opposition from both political parties, but Kennedy continued to push for it. In 1964, he signed the Food Stamp Act into law, officially creating the federal food stamp program we know today.

Since then, the program has undergone several changes, including a name change in 2008 to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to reflect its broader purpose, which includes both food assistance and nutrition education.

YearProgram Changes
1971Expansion of program eligibility and removal of purchase requirement for participants
1981Introduction of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system for benefits distribution
1996Enactment of welfare reform legislation that limited eligibility and benefits for SNAP recipients

Today, the SNAP program serves millions of Americans in need and is an essential part of the nation’s social safety net.

The Original Purpose of Food Stamps

Food stamps were created during the Great Depression, a time when millions of Americans were living in poverty and struggling to put food on the table. The original purpose of food stamps was to provide assistance to these individuals and families and to ensure that they had access to nutritious food.

  • The first food stamp program was launched in May 1939 in Rochester, New York. The program was designed to help struggling families purchase food without having to resort to charity or government handouts.
  • During its early years, the food stamp program operated at a local level and was authorized by state governments. The federal government did not become involved in the program until the 1960s.
  • By the end of the 1960s, food stamp programs had been established in every state, and the federal government had taken over the administration of the program.

The food stamp program has undergone many changes since its inception, but its original purpose remains the same: to provide assistance to those in need and to ensure that all Americans have access to nutritious food. Today, the food stamp program is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and it provides assistance to millions of Americans every year.

SNAP benefits are distributed through electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used to purchase groceries at participating retailers. The program has strict eligibility requirements, and participants must meet income and resource limits to qualify for benefits.

The program has been criticized in recent years for its cost and perceived abuse by some recipients, but supporters argue that the program is an essential safety net for those in need and that it helps to combat hunger and food insecurity in the United States.

YearNumber of People Receiving Benefits
19704.3 million
198019.0 million
199020.1 million
200017.2 million
201040.3 million
202036.0 million

Despite its criticisms, the food stamp program has played a crucial role in helping millions of Americans access the food they need to live healthy, productive lives.

The First Food Stamp Program in the U.S.

The first food stamp program in the United States was implemented in May 1939 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in an effort to help farmers and alleviate food surpluses. The program was called the Food Stamp Plan and was piloted in eight different states.

  • The first food stamps were actual stamps given to participating households to purchase food items with at authorized retailers.
  • Approximately $26 million worth of food stamps were distributed during the first year of the program.
  • The Food Stamp Plan was originally only intended to be a temporary program lasting until the surpluses of crops such as wheat, corn, and cotton could be reduced. However, the program remained in place even after the surpluses were addressed due to the positive impact it had on reducing poverty and hunger.

The Food Stamp Plan was eventually converted to an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system in the 1980s, which eliminated the use of paper stamps and provided more convenient access to benefits for participants. Today, the program is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and serves millions of Americans in need of food assistance.

It’s important to note that the creation of food stamp programs in the United States was not solely aimed at helping those in poverty. The programs were created as a way to also help farmers and stimulate the economy by providing a market for agricultural products. However, the positive impact on reducing hunger and poverty cannot be denied, and the program remains an important support system for millions of Americans today.

YearNumber of Participants (average monthly)
19692.9 Million
197917.1 Million
198920.8 Million
199918.2 Million
200933.5 Million
201936.0 Million

As the table demonstrates, the number of participants in the food stamp program has fluctuated over the years, peaking during times of economic hardship. However, the program has remained a vital resource for millions of Americans in need of food assistance.

The Creation of the Modern Food Stamp Program

The modern Food Stamp Program was created in the 1960s as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” initiative. The program aimed to provide low-income individuals and families with access to nutritious food, while also stimulating the economy.

  • The Food Stamp Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Johnson on August 31, 1964. It authorized a Food Stamp Program to be run by the Department of Agriculture.
  • The initial program was capped at a maximum of 350,000 participants and targeted individuals in areas of chronic unemployment and low incomes.
  • Over the years, the program expanded and changed. In the 1970s, eligibility criteria were broadened to include households with gross incomes up to 130% of the poverty line. By 1980, all states had implemented the program.

The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) brought significant changes to the program. It renamed the program the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and introduced a work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents.

Today, SNAP continues to provide food assistance to millions of Americans. In 2020, an average of 35 million individuals participated in the program each month, with an average benefit per person of $126.31.

YearNumber of ParticipantsTotal Program Cost (in billions)
19692.8 million0.3
198019.4 million4.5
200017.2 million18.0
201040.3 million68.2
202035.1 million76.1

Despite controversy and criticism of the program, SNAP remains a vital safety net for millions of Americans facing food insecurity.

The Expansion of the Food Stamp Program

Since its inception in 1939, the food stamp program had undergone many changes in the following years, especially in the 1960s and the 1970s. The program was expanded to cover more beneficiaries and to provide better services to the needy. Below are the key expansions of the program during these decades.

  • 1961: The pilot project that allowed states to distribute surplus commodities to low-income households was converted into the Food Stamp Program. This move made the program a permanent federal assistance program.
  • 1964: The program was expanded to reach more people with low incomes, including people on welfare and the elderly.
  • 1971: The program was expanded to include people who were still technically employed but with very low incomes.

By the late 1970s, more than 15 million Americans were using the food stamp program, which was now the largest anti-hunger program in the country. The program continued to evolve over the subsequent years.

In 1984, the Food Stamp Act was amended to provide more resources to improve program access and to establish more stringent eligibility rules. In 2002, the program was rebranded as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Today, the program continues to provide crucial assistance to millions of Americans, including children, the elderly, and disabled individuals.

The Relationship Between Poverty and Food Stamps

Food stamps were created to help Americans in poverty who faced food insecurity, meaning that they didn’t have access to enough food to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. In the United States, poverty is closely linked to food insecurity. In fact, according to recent statistics, 34 million Americans lived in poverty in 2019. Among them, 10.5 million were severely food insecure and may not have had enough food to eat on a daily basis.

  • Food insecurity disproportionately affects some groups more than others. For example, children and elderly people are more likely to experience food insecurity than working-age adults who live in poverty.
  • Communities of color are also more likely to experience food insecurity. Traditionally marginalized groups or those that have been systemically oppressed find that they also have higher rates of poverty. These populations often lack access to high-quality education, affordable healthcare, safe and affordable housing, and nutritious food.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic caused an additional surge in food insecurity, leading to more Americans to face challenges in putting food on the table. According to The Hamilton Project, the food insecurity rate among Americans doubled from 10.5% in 2019 to 21% in May 2020.

Food stamps were created to provide help and support to those who are in need. Food stamps, through their modern counterpart, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aim to provide financial assistance to individuals and families who qualify based on their income level and other criteria.

Below is a snapshot of the income guidelines for SNAP benefits in the United States, as of 2021:

Household SizeMaximum Monthly Gross IncomeMaximum Monthly Net Income
Each additional person$486$373

By providing assistance in the form of food stamps, we can help to alleviate poverty and food insecurity. Food stamps can help individuals access nutritious foods, maintain better health, and provide better opportunities in education and work.

The Debate Over Who Should Be Eligible for Food Stamps

As a government program, food stamps have always been a source of controversy. One of the most contentious issues surrounding food stamps is who should be eligible to receive them. Over the years, there have been several debates on this topic, with opinions ranging from more restrictive eligibility requirements to more lenient ones.

  • Stringent Requirements: Some argue that food stamps should only be available to those who are truly in need. They believe that eligibility requirements should be more stringent, with stricter income and asset limits. This approach favors a more targeted approach, with a focus on helping only the neediest individuals and families.
  • More Inclusive Approach: On the other side of the debate, some believe that food stamps should be available to a broader set of individuals. They argue that eligibility requirements should be more inclusive, allowing a wider range of people to benefit from the program. This approach favors a more universal approach, with the belief that everyone should have access to basic necessities like food.
  • Work Requirements: Another point of contention is whether or not work requirements should be attached to food stamp eligibility. Some believe that those who are capable of working should not be eligible for food stamps unless they are actively seeking employment. Others argue that work requirements penalize those who are already struggling, and that access to food should not be contingent on employment status.

Ultimately, the debate over who should be eligible for food stamps is an ongoing discussion, with advocates on both sides pushing for their preferred approach. As the program continues to evolve, it is likely that eligibility requirements will continue to be a hotly debated topic.

It’s helpful to understand the current eligibility requirements to contextualize the ongoing debate. According to the USDA, in order to receive food stamp benefits, a household must meet the following criteria:

Maximum Gross Monthly Income130% of the Federal Poverty Level
Maximum Net Monthly Income100% of the Federal Poverty Level
Asset Limit$2,250 for most households; $3,500 for households with an elderly or disabled member

These requirements are subject to change as the program evolves and the debate over eligibility requirements continues.

The Role of Food Stamps in the American Safety Net

The creation of food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), can be traced back to the Great Depression in the 1930s. During this time, the government recognized the need to provide assistance to individuals and families who were struggling to afford food. In 1939, the first government-funded food assistance program was implemented, which allowed individuals to purchase surplus food items from the government. This program eventually gave way to the modern-day SNAP program.

  • SNAPE is the largest nutrition assistance program in the United States, providing assistance to over 40 million individuals in 2019.
  • The program is designed to supplement the food budgets of low-income families and individuals, ensuring that they have access to nutritious food.
  • SNAP benefits are distributed through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which works similarly to a debit card.

While the primary goal of SNAP is to provide individuals and families with the necessary resources to obtain food, the program has additional benefits that contribute to the American safety net.

SNAP has been proven to stimulate local economies by providing a reliable source of income for grocery stores and other food retailers. In addition, studies have shown that children who receive SNAP benefits are more likely to experience improved health outcomes, including lower rates of obesity and better academic performance.

YearNumber of SNAP Participants
19692.8 million
200017.2 million
201936.4 million

Despite the benefits of SNAP, the program has become a political lightning rod in recent years, with some calling for cuts to the program or even its elimination. Advocates for the program argue that it provides a critical safety net for vulnerable populations and contributes to a healthy and thriving society.

The Impact of Food Stamps on Food Insecurity

Food insecurity was a significant problem in the United States for years before the creation of food stamps. The program aimed to reduce hunger and malnutrition in low-income households. It was introduced in 1961 as a temporary measure to help farmers struggling due to low agricultural prices and consumers who couldn’t afford to buy food at regular prices. However, it was made permanent in 1964.

Over the years, food stamps have had a profound impact on reducing hunger and improving food insecurity in the United States. Here are some of the significant ways in which food stamps have helped:

  • Increased Access to Nutritious Food: Food stamps have enabled low-income individuals and families to purchase more nutritious food, thereby improving their health outcomes and reducing the incidence of diet-related illnesses.
  • Boosted Local Economies: Food stamps inject a significant amount of money into the economy, particularly in rural areas. Participating in the program helps local farmers, grocery stores, and other food retailers.
  • Reduced Poverty: Food stamps increase the disposable income that low-income families have at their disposal, which reduces poverty levels. It helps them to redirect their limited resources to other essential expenses, such as housing, medical care, and education.

Despite the various benefits, food insecurity remains a pervasive problem in the United States, particularly among low-income families. In 2019, an estimated 35 million people experienced food insecurity in the United States. This figure is likely to be higher in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to widespread unemployment and economic uncertainty.

YearNumber of Participants (in millions)

The table above shows the number of food stamp participants in millions from 1969 to 2019. While the number of participants spiked in 2009 due to the Great Recession and decreased slightly since then, the number of participants remains high, indicating that many Americans continue to struggle with food insecurity.

Overall, food stamps are a vital lifeline for millions of Americans who would otherwise struggle to afford basic necessities like food. Although the program has had a positive impact, there is still a need for more comprehensive solutions to address the underlying problems of poverty and food insecurity in the United States.

The Future of Food Stamps in the U.S.

Food stamp programs, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have been helping low-income individuals and families access food since the 1930s. However, the future of food stamps in the U.S. remains uncertain due to political and economic factors.

  • The 2018 Farm Bill, which contained revisions to SNAP, was met with controversy and disagreement among U.S. lawmakers. Proposed changes included stricter work requirements and restrictions on eligibility.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and shortcomings of the SNAP program. As many Americans faced job loss and economic instability, demand for food assistance increased substantially.
  • Environmental and climate change factors also have the potential to impact the future of food stamps. Changes in weather and natural disasters can affect crop production and food availability, which may impact SNAP recipients.

Despite these challenges, there are efforts to improve and expand the SNAP program. In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act provided additional funding and expanded eligibility for SNAP recipients. Many advocates and lawmakers also argue for a higher minimum wage and investments in affordable housing, which could reduce the need for food assistance in the long run.

The SNAP program will continue to be a crucial lifeline for millions of Americans in need of food assistance. However, the future of food stamps in the U.S. will depend on the ability of lawmakers and society as a whole to prioritize and support efforts to combat poverty and promote food security.

FAQs: When Were Food Stamps Created?

  1. When were food stamps first introduced?
  2. Food stamps were first introduced in the United States on May 16, 1939, as part of the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

  3. What was the original purpose of food stamps?
  4. Food stamps were originally designed to help farmers and low-income families suffering from the economic difficulties faced during the Great Depression.

  5. How has the food stamp program evolved since its creation?
  6. The food stamp program has undergone several changes throughout its history, including the use of electronic benefits transfer cards (EBT) instead of paper stamps and changes in eligibility requirements.

  7. What is the current name of the food stamp program?
  8. The current name of the food stamp program in the United States is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

  9. When was the name change from food stamps to SNAP?
  10. The name change from food stamps to SNAP officially occurred on October 1, 2008.

  11. How many people participate in SNAP today?
  12. As of February 2021, approximately 40 million people in the United States participate in SNAP.

  13. What is the budget for SNAP?
  14. In the fiscal year 2020, the budget for SNAP was approximately $68 billion.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading about when food stamps were created! The history of this program is rich and ongoing, as it continues to provide essential support to those in need across the United States. If you found this article helpful, be sure to visit again for more informative content!