People couldn’t wait to receive the first batch of food stamps, but the most eager person was Ralston Thayer. An unemployed machinist was also a World War I veteran who decided to head to the old post office building in Rochester, New York, that day in 1939 because the surplus food program seemed simple enough.
All that is known of Thayer is he gave $4 from his unemployment check to the clerk, and she handed him $2 of blue food stamps for free along with $4 of orange food stamps. While reporters tried to talk to Thayer, he kept to himself.
18. Many Other People Stood In Line For The First Food Stamps
Close to 2,000 Rochester residents followed Thayer into the food stamp line on May 16, 1939. Each one received 50 cents worth of blue food stamps for every $1 value of orange food stamps they purchased. This gave them an upper hand when it came to buying groceries.
One woman told the reporters that she was excited to purchase the best food for her and her family. Another woman stated, “We can take our pick on these surplus commodities instead of taking what they give us.”
Most people enjoyed the Food Stamp program because it gave them coupons to purchase food that they couldn’t receive otherwise. You didn’t have to use food stamps, and residents of Rochester, New York, who had a job, didn’t care to look into the food stamp program.
The people who became torn about the program were local business owners, especially grocery store owners. Some owners stated the program was a blessing because it allowed them to give food to people without losing all their money. Other owners noted the program was a horrible idea as they lost money.
16. President John F. Kennedy’s First Step In The Office Included Expanding Food Stamps
At his time, Kennedy became known as a progressive president. He wanted to help American citizens in a way that most presidents didn’t. While he is known for his Civil Rights work, one of the first steps Kennedy took once he stepped into the White House was expanding the food stamp program.
On February 2, 1961, President Kennedy announced the initiation of Food Stamp pilot programs. These programs eliminated the concept of exceptional surplus food but requested that citizens continue to purchase food stamps. The United States Congress agreed with Kennedy’s decision and started working toward distributing food stamps again.
15. Isabelle Kelley Became The First Woman To Oversee The Food Stamp Program
Once Kennedy signed his first Executive Order to expand the food stamp program, the government needed to create a group under the Department of Agriculture to manage the program. Four people, including Congresswoman Isabelle Kelley, agreed to become a part of the group.
In the process of Kelley becoming a member, she also became the first woman to become a part of the Department of Agriculture to head an action program. On top of this, Kelley became the first director of the expanded food stamp program.
14. In The Position, Isabelle Kelley Helped Feed Millions Of People
Isabelle Kelley is a Congressman that is often overlooked in history. Not only was she a part of Congress before it became famous for women to enter politics, but she also became the first director of the food stamp program under President Kennedy and made sure she did a perfect job.
Kelley spends years doing her best to work with the government, retailers, farmers, and consumers to make sure the food program did what it needed to do. In fact, within five years, Kelley fed over six million American citizens.
13. The First Recipients Of The 1961 Food Stamp Program Were Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy
Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy of Paynesville, West Virginia, became the first recipients of the food stamp coupons under the new program. They received $95 in food stamp coupons on May 29, 1961. They used this money to feed their 15-person household.
Once Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy received their coupons, they went directly to Henderson’s Supermarket. Among other meats, milk, cheese, they purchased a can of pork and beans, which was the first transaction under the food stamp program. The family continued to use the program for years to help feed their families. They always stated how grateful they were for the program.
12. The Food Stamp Program Became Permanent In 1964
Unfortunately, President Kennedy died before he could complete the job he wanted to with the Food Stamp Program. Thankfully, the next president, Lyndon B. Johnson, decided to take the step Kennedy never got to try and pushed to make the food stamp program permanent.
The proposal went to the legislature on April 17, 1963, but wasn’t approved immediately. In fact, it took until 1964 before Congress passed a law to make the program permanent. Not only did the program allows people to receive food stamps for the rest of their lives if they qualified, but it continued to help the farming company.
11. Many Changes Occurred With The Food Stamp Act Of 1964
Congress took their time approving the Food Stamp Act of 1964 because they couldn’t agree on what the act should contain. Some of the factors they came up with include that recipients needed to purchase food stamps and prohibited against political belief, race, religion, and natural origins.
Other factors included a State Plan of Operation, alcohol purchases are not allowed, imported food is not allowed, and funding costs are divided between the Federal Government and each state. Funding for the first year was set at $75 million, went up to $100 million for the second year, and the third year to $200 million.
10. Throughout The Rest Of The 1960s, The Food Stamp Program Continued To Grow
By April 1965, 561,261 people took part in the Food Stamp Program. This number continued to grow well into the 1970s. By March 1966, over one million people received food stamps. The following year this number increased to 2 million people.
By February 1969, about 3 million people received food stamps. This number jumped up to 4 million within the year. By May 1970, 6 million people received food stamps. By February 1971, 10 million people got food stamps, and this number hit 15 million by October 1974.
9. The Federal Government Became Worried About The Cost Of Food Stamps During The 1970s Because Of the Growth
Both Federal and State Governments couldn’t believe the growth of the food stamp program during the 1970s. No one expected the rate to grow so fast, so politicians suddenly because worried about how much the plan started to cost.
Other than cost, the Federal Government became concerned about how this affected farmers. Another problem became the areas that didn’t have food stamps in their jurisdiction. Consumers still needed the food stamp program, but couldn’t legally receive them. However, many people tried to get around the law by lying about their addresses.
While consumers felt that the Food Stamp Program should become nationwide as soon as the government passed the act, this wasn’t the case. In fact, it took another decade before the Food Stamp Program received nationwide status.
Over ten years, more and more states incorporated the Food Stamp Program, allowing all their counties to bring the program as part of their benefits. Puerto Rico became the last area to include the Food Stamp Program. Residents of Puerto Rico needed to wait until November 1, 1974.
7. The 1980s Saw Cut Backs In The Food Stamp Program
During the early 1980s, Congress realized that they couldn’t continue to see the program grow as it did because neither the Federal Government or the states could afford it. Therefore, the legislature enacted various cutbacks between 1981 and 1982.
First, the government added a gross income eligibility test for every household that applied. Next, they prohibited federal funding for outreach. Other cutbacks included annual adjustments in food stamp allotments, and Puerto Rico received a block grant for nutrition assistance instead of access to the Food Stamp Program.
6. EBTs Started To Push Out Food Stamps Starting In 1988
Today, people know food stamps as EBT and receive their funds through a plastic card. But, one factor they do not know is this process started in the late 1980s. The first EBT cards came out in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1984. This became the test pilot for EBT cards.
The Hunger Prevention Act of 1988 pushed for more test pilot programs. Areas all around the United States continued to test the EBT cards instead of food stamp coupons. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 told states they all needed to start implementing EBT by October 2002.
Today, food stamps are known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). While the general idea for SNAP is the same as food stamps, the program focuses more on health and making sure families get healthy food over unhealthy food.
One factor that’s changed over time is that people can get food at other places than grocery stores. You can also get particular food at convenience stores and even some farmer’s markets. Instead of coupons, the money is automatically deposited on a plastic EBT card.
People receive their SNAP benefits through a plastic EBT card that looks like a regular debit or credit card. EBT stands for electronic benefit transfer, and people can’t tell if someone is using an EBT card or another card.
The main reason the American government decided to transfer SNAP benefits to a plastic debit type card is that people were embarrassed when they gave the cashier checks or coupons for food. Some people refused to take the benefit, even when they needed it, because of the embarrassment they felt.
SNAP is similar and different to the original food stamps of 1939. While they both help people put food on their table, SNAP focuses more on health. With SNAP, someone will receive the benefits without taking them from someone else, which means it’s not a welfare program.
SNAP is run by the United States Department of Agriculture, except in Massachusetts. The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) overseas SNAP in Massachusetts. Once you’re approved for EBT, you will receive your card and SNAP money every month. You do not need to give anyone cash for them to put SNAP funds into your EBT card.
One of the biggest changes made throughout Food Stamp history, other than the name change, is the food recipients of the program receive. When Food Stamps first started, the point was to help everyone from farmers to the consumer. Today, one of the most significant aspects of SNAP is to make sure people eat healthily.
While you can purchase unhealthy food with SNAP, there are restrictions. You are also persuaded to focus more on healthy food and ingredients that allow you to make a well-balanced meal for your family.
1. The Use Of Food Stamps Is Still Mixed To This Day
Over the past few months, the discussion of food stamps has skyrocketed due to United States President Trump creating a new food stamp rule which cuts the benefit for many people. While some people agree with this cut, often citing that people misuse the program, other people disagree by stating it brings more people close to poverty.
No matter what side of the fence you are on, you can’t deny that the history of food stamps goes back 80 years. However, one factor that hasn’t changed is that the program started as a way to help Americans put food on the table, and this is still the point of food stamps.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: