The food stamp program, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), was implemented in 1939 under the administration of president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program, a part of the New Deal, was developed during the Great Depression when farms had surplus food supply and city residents were going hungry.
Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, created the first food stamps with the help of the program's first administrator, Milo Perkins. The program worked by allowing low-income individuals to purchase orange stamp booklets that were used to buy common grocery items. For every $1 spent to purchase orange stamps, an additional $0.50 was received in blue stamps. Blue stamps could be used to purchase those items that were designated in stores as being in surplus such as dry beans, flour, eggs and fresh vegetables. The program ended in 1943 as the beginning of World War II and the corresponding boost to the economy reduced the number of citizens living in poverty.
The next phase of the food stamp program was enacted in 1961 with a similar system requiring individuals to purchase stamps for grocery items. In 1964, President Johnson asked the congress to make the food stamp program permanent to strengthen agricultural economy and provide food for low-income households. Major revisions were made to the program in 1977, including the elimination of required purchasing of stamps.
Revisions and expansions to the program continued in 1990 and again in the early 2000s to include immigrants and children into the program. In 2008 legislators worked to return the focus of the SNAP program to emphasize nutrition.