This fall, USDA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which made the Food Stamp Program permanent. In looking back over the past 50 years, there are two notable events in the program’s history that had a significant impact on the transformation of the original Food Stamp Program in 1964 to the program we know today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
First, the Food Stamp Act of 1977 was a major program milestone, because it established national eligibility standards for participation and eliminated the purchase requirement for food stamps. The new standards meant that the amount of benefits a household received depended on the household’s size, income, and expenses, a standard that remains today. The elimination of the purchase requirement meant that people received their benefits upfront, without the intermediary step of purchasing the food stamp first. The Food Stamp Act of 1977, therefore, removed a major barrier to participation in the program while also ensuring that benefits would be targeted to those most in need. As a result, the mission of the Food Stamp Program to mitigate the effects of poverty was strengthened.