Student's Guide to Landmark Congressional Laws on Social Security and Welfare

By Steven G. Livingston | Go to book overview
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12

The Food Stamp Act of 1964

The food stamp program is perhaps the best known, and is the most distinctive, of America's social welfare policies. Virtually everyone has seen food stamps being used at their local supermarket. But why did the United States undertake such an unusual antipoverty program? Either the provision of the food itself, or simply the cash with which to buy it, seems so much simpler. The answer begins with the fact that food stamps are an extension neither of the Social Security system nor of the changes in social welfare policy that had occurred in the years just before its passage. They are the product of endrely different politics.

Though the food stamp program may not be a typical public assistance program, it has become one of America's most important. By fiscal year 2000, approximately 17.2 million Americans, and 7.3 million households, received food stamps. The average beneficiary received $73 a month, and the average household obtained $173 per month. Congress appropriates over $21 billion a year for the food stamp program, making it one of the largest domestic programs. Given its size, it is not surprising that the program has been controversial since it was first conceived.

Few people, whether supporters or critics, realize just how long ago that was. The United States was distributing “orange stamps” and “blue stamps” before World War II. This first food stamp program was a Great Depression effort simultaneously to help farmers and provide relief to the poor. Agricultural surplus was one of the many problems of that era. American farmers could not find markets for everything they grew. In 1933 the Roosevelt administration

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