The Food Stamp Program was a federal aid program that started in 1939 to allow poor and unemployed people to purchase food and to assist farmers by consuming surplus crops. The color-coded stamp program provided orange and blue stamps that could be exchanged for groceries. Originally, eligible participants purchased orange stamps that could be used to the purchase any type of food. For every dollar of orange stamps purchased, participants received fifty cents worth of blue stamps, which could be used to purchase food the US Government labeled as surplus. By the late 1990s, most states had phased out actual stamps in favor of a debit card system known as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).
The Food Stamp Program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been amended several times since its inception, experiencing periods of growth in the 1960s and early 1970s and restriction in the 1980s. Participation in the programs have varied throughout its history with greater need during economic downturns, recessions, and temporary disasters. SNAP remains a crucial governmental assistance program to those living below poverty levels, with 46.5 million people in 22.7 million households receiving benefits as of September 2014.
Additional resources for research
- America’s Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal online exhibit, Digital Public Library of America.
- “The History of SNAP” timeline, SNAP to Health.
- “A History of Food Stamps Use and Policy” timeline, The New York Times.
- A Short History of SNAP, US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.