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The Many Reasons USDA is Celebrating 50 Years of SNAP

Posted by Jessica Shahin, Associate Administrator for SNAP in Food and Nutrition
Nov 20, 2014
SNAP continues to serve as the first line of defense against hunger in the United States.
SNAP continues to serve as the first line of defense against hunger in the United States.

Half a century ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act of 1964, making the Food Stamp Program (FSP), which at the time was a series of pilot projects, permanent. Despite the post-World War II economic boom felt by many Americans, some rural and urban areas of the country experienced extreme poverty as well as limited access to nutritious, affordable food. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 was an important component in President Johnson’s effort to eliminate poverty. This year, we not only mark 50 years of SNAP as a nationwide program, but we also recognize the lasting changes it has produced in both the economy and the nutrition habits of Americans. 

In those early days, the FSP reached families living in deprived areas and served a dual purpose.  It strengthened the agricultural economy, while also providing improved levels of nutrition among low-income households. Even though the FSP was renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008, its mission is the same. SNAP continues to serve as the first line of defense against hunger in the United States while supporting the economy.

In fact, every $1 in new SNAP benefits generates up to $1.80 in economic activity.  According to the Census Bureau, if benefits were included in the official measures of income and poverty, SNAP would have lifted 5 million Americans, including 2.2 million children, out of poverty in 2012.  Moreover, in the last 20 years, there has been a shift in income from welfare to work among SNAP participants. Specifically, 40 percent of all SNAP households received cash welfare with only 20 percent having earnings in 1992.  Fast forward 20 years and in 2012, only seven percent received cash welfare and 31 percent had earnings.  Today, the program also continues to focus on employment and training (E&T) programs for recipients, helping them move to self sufficiency and meaningful work.  SNAP strengthens families and the communities they live in. 

With regards to nutrition, surveys that cover the time between 1965 and 1978 reveal that the diets of the poor improved markedly. Additionally, the level of food insecurity did not rise throughout the recession of 2008 to 2012, despite increases in poverty and unemployment.  This further underscores the role of SNAP, stretching the food budgets for low-income Americans. Furthermore, research demonstrates that SNAP participation in childhood leads to a significant reduction in the prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes in adults.  There is more to do in this area, but the progress is important. 

In a country as great as ours, no child should go hungry, no parent should forgo dinner so that their children may eat, and no senior should have to decide whether to buy medication or groceries.  President Johnson’s dream of eliminating poverty lives on today in the hearts and minds of all Americans, including county, state, and federal staff along with legislators and policy officials, who have worked tirelessly over the past 50 years to ensure that SNAP is the cornerstone of the nation’s hunger safety net and nutrition assistance programs. 

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Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition