that contain an elderly or disabled person are exempt from the gross income test). The TFP, basic eligibility rules, and benefit levels are the same throughout the contiguous United States. See Figure 2-1 for a timeline of the dates of key SNAP legislation, as well as changes in participation and average benefit amounts over time.

The Early Program

SNAP was preceded by the original Food Stamp Program of 1939 and the pilot programs of the early 1960s. The 1939 program was initiated to align growing food surpluses with a concern for the needs of the poor as the country emerged from the Great Depression. The program grew out of a commodities distribution program in which commodities were purchased for a nonprofit, noncapital corporation, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, whose goal was to encourage domestic consumption of surplus food as a source of unemployment relief. With the new program, people on relief (public assistance) purchased orange stamps for $1 each, up to an amount approximately equal to their normal monthly food expenditure. For every orange stamp they purchased, they received a blue stamp worth 50 cents. The orange stamps could be used to buy any food, while the blue stamps were for foods USDA deemed surplus. The program operated in about half of U.S. counties and served about 4 million people a month at its peak (FNS, 2012c). The Secretary of Agriculture’s 1939 annual report3 included the following description of the program: “In times of great agricultural surpluses, which usually are accompanied by great unemployment, it will be there to do a minimum job in terms of minimum diets below which the public health would be endangered. The broader market made it possible for farmers in times of stress will help to stabilize our whole economy” (p. 719). Not surprisingly, the program was widely popular with the general public, participants, and grocers. By 1943, however, the program was terminated because of reduced availability of surpluses due to the war effort and a decline in unemployment levels (FNS, 2012d).

The Program of the 1960s and the Food Stamp Act of 1964

Nonetheless, the Food Stamp Program was not forgotten, and interest in the program continued until 1960, when it again became a reality. During his presidential campaign in West Virginia, Senator John F. Kennedy promised to start a food stamp program if elected. His first executive order on January 21, 1961 (White House, 1961), expanded food distribution programs and was followed by a February announcement that USDA would


3Food Stamp Act, HR 7940, 95th Congress (1977-1978).

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