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A Short History of SNAP

Last Published: 09/17/2018
President Johnson signing the Food Stamp Act of 1964.President Johnson signing the Food Stamp Act of 1964.

 

1939 – The First Food Stamp Program

The idea for the first Food Stamp Program (FSP) is credited to various people, most notably Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace and the program's first Administrator Milo Perkins. The program operated by permitting people on relief to buy orange stamps equal to their normal food expenditures. For every $1 worth of orange stamps purchased, 50 cents worth of blue stamps were received. Orange stamps could be used to buy any food.  Blue stamps could only be used to buy food determined by the Department to be surplus.

The first recipient was Mabel McFiggin of Rochester, New York on May 16, 1939.  The first retailer to redeem the stamps was Joseph Mutolo, and the first retailer caught violating the program was Nick Salzano in October 1939. Over the course of nearly 4 years, the first FSP reached approximately 20 million people at one time or another in nearly half of the counties in the United States, peak participation was 4 million, at a total cost of $262 million. The program ended in the spring of 1943 "since the conditions that brought the program into being--unmarketable food surpluses and widespread unemployment--no longer existed."

"We got a picture of a gorge, with farm surpluses on one cliff and under-nourished city folks with outstretched hands on the other. We set out to find a practical way to build a bridge across that chasm." 

                                      ( Milo Perkins )

1961 through 1964 – Pilot Food Stamp Program  

The 18 years between the end of the first FSP and the inception of the next were filled with studies, reports, and legislative proposals.

Prominent Senators actively associated with attempts to enact an FSP during this period were: Aiken, La Follette, Humphrey, Kefauver, and Symington. From 1954 on, Congresswoman Leonor K. Sullivan strove unceasingly to pass food stamp program legislation. On September 21, 1959, P.L. 86-341 authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to operate a food stamp system through January 31, 1962.

The Eisenhower Administration never used the authority. However, in fulfillment of a campaign promise made in West Virginia, President Kennedy's first Executive Order called for expanded food distribution and, on February 2, 1961, he announced the initiation of Food Stamp pilot programs. The pilot programs would retain the requirement that the food stamps be purchased, but eliminated the concept of special stamps for surplus foods. A Department spokesman indicated the emphasis would be on increasing the consumption of perishables. Isabelle Kelley, who was part of the four-person team that designed the new program, became its first director and the first woman in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to head an action program.

Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy of Paynesville, West Virginia, were the first food stamp recipients on May 29, 1961. They purchased $95 in food stamps for their 15-person household. In the first food stamp transaction, they bought a can of pork and beans at Henderson's Supermarket. By January 1964, the pilot programs had expanded from eight areas to 43 (40 counties, Detroit, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh) in 22 States with 380,000 participants.

1964 – Food Stamp Act 

On January 31, 1964, President Johnson requested Congress to pass legislation making the FSP permanent. Secretary Orville Freeman had submitted proposed legislation to establish a permanent FSP on April 17, 1963. The bill that was eventually passed by Congress was introduced by Congresswoman Sullivan. Among the official purposes of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-525) were strengthening the agricultural economy and providing improved levels of nutrition among low-income households; however, the practical purpose was to bring the pilot FSP under Congressional control and to enact the regulations into law. The major provisions were:

  • Required a State Plan of Operation and development of eligibility standards by States;
  • Required that recipients purchase their food stamps, paying an amount commensurate with their normal expenditures for food and receiving an amount of food stamps representing an opportunity more nearly to obtain a low-cost nutritionally adequate diet;
  • Established eligibility for purchased with food stamps of all items intended for human consumption except alcoholic beverages and imported foods (the House version would have prohibited the purchase of soft drinks, luxury foods, and luxury frozen foods);
  • Prohibited against discrimination on bases of race, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs;
  • Divided responsibilities between States (certification and issuance) and the Federal Government (funding of benefits and authorization of retailers and wholesalers), with shared responsibility for funding costs of administration; and
  • Appropriated for the first year funding limited to $75 million; $100 million for the second year; and$200 million for the third year.

The Department estimated that participation in a national FSP would eventually reach 4 million at a cost of $360 million annually.

In April 1965, participation topped half a million. (Actual participation was 561,261 people.) Participation topped 1 million in March 1966, 2 million in October 1967, 3 million in February 1969, 4 million in February 1970, 5 million one month later in March 1970, 6 million two months later in May 1970, 10 million in February 1971, and 15 million in October 1974. Rapid increases in participation during this period were primarily due to geographic expansion.

The early 1970s were a period of growth in participation; concern about the cost of providing food stamp benefits; and questions about administration, primarily timely certification. It was during this time that the issue was framed that would dominate food stamp legislation ever after: How to balance program access with program accountability? Three major pieces of legislation shaped this period leading up to massive reform to follow:

The Food Stamp Act Amendment of 1970 (P.L. 91-671) passed on January 11, 1971 and established uniform national standards of eligibility and work registration requirements; required that allotments be equivalent to the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet; limited households' purchase requirements to 30 percent of their income; instituted an outreach requirement; authorized the Department to pay 62.5 percent of specific administrative costs incurred by States; expanded the FSP to Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands of the United States; and provided $1.75 billion appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 1971.

Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-86) passed on August 10, 1973, and required States to expand the program to every political jurisdiction before July 1, 1974; expanded the program to drug addicts and alcoholics in treatment and rehabilitation centers; established semi-annual allotment adjustments, SSI cash-out, and bi-monthly issuance; introduced statutory complexity in the income definition (by including in-kind payments and providing an accompanying exception); and required the Department to establish temporary eligibility standards for disasters. This legislation also added a new category of eligible purchases with SNAP benefits, seeds and plants that produce food for human consumption.

P.L. 93-347 (passed on July 12, 1974) authorized the Department to pay 50 percent of all States' costs for administering the program and established the requirement for efficient and effective administration by the States.

In accordance with P.L. 93-86, the FSP began operating Nationwide on July 1, 1974. The program was not fully implemented in Puerto Rico until November 1, 1974.

1976 – Participation Milestone

In 1976, participation hit a new record high of 18.5 million people.

Both the outgoing Republican administration and the new Democratic administration offered Congress proposed legislation to reform the FSP in 1977. The Republican bill stressed targeting benefits to the neediest, simplifying administration, and tightening controls on the program. The Democratic bill focused on increasing access to those most in need, while simplifying and streamlining a complicated and cumbersome process that delayed benefit delivery as well as reducing errors and curbing abuse. The chief force for the Democratic administration was Robert Greenstein, Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  On the Hill, major players were Senators McGovern, Javits, Humphrey, and Dole along with Congressmen Foley and Richmond. Amidst all the themes, the one that became the rallying cry for FSP reform was "EPR"--eliminate the purchase requirement--because of the barrier to participation the purchase requirement represented. The bill that became the law—Senate (S.) 275─did eliminate the purchase requirement. The Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-113) also:

  • Eliminated categorical eligibility;
  • Established statutory income eligibility guidelines at the poverty line;
  • Established 10 categories of excluded income;
  • Reduced the number of deductions used to calculate net income and established a standard deduction to take the place of eliminated deductions;
  • Established the fair market value (FMV) test for evaluating vehicles as resources;
  • Raised the general resource limit to $1,750;
  • Penalized households whose heads voluntarily quit jobs;
  • Established a job search requirement for nonexempt work registrants;
  • Restricted eligibility for students and aliens;
  • Eliminated the requirement that households must have cooking facilities;
  • Replaced store due bills with cash change up to 99 cents;
  • Established the principle that stores must sell a substantial amount of staple foods if they are to be authorized;
  • Established the ground rules for Indian Tribal Organization administration of the FSP on reservations; and
  • Introduced demonstration project authority.

The Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 also included several access provisions:

  • Allowed using mail, telephone, or home visits for certification;
  • Required for outreach, bilingual personnel and materials, and nutrition education materials;
  • Established recipients' right to submit applications the first day they attempt to do so;
  • Established a 30-day processing standard and inception of the concept of expedited service;
  • Established SSI joint processing and coordination with AFDC;
  • Established notice, recertification, and retroactive benefit protections; and
  • Required States to develop a disaster plan.

The integrity provisions of the new program included fraud disqualifications, enhanced Federal funding for States' anti-fraud activities, and financial incentives for low error rates.

EPR was implemented on January 1, 1979. Participation that month increased by 1.5 million over the preceding month.

1981 – Participation Milestone

By 1981, participation hit a new record high of 22.4 million people.

The large and expensive FSP came under close scrutiny of both the Executive Branch and Congress in the early 1980s. Major legislation in 1981 and 1982 enacted cutbacks including:

  • Added a gross income eligibility test in addition to the net income test for most households;
  • Introduced a temporary freeze on adjustments of the shelter deduction cap and the standard deduction and constraints on future adjustments;
  • Established annual adjustments in food stamp allotments rather than semi-annual;
  • Added consideration of non-elderly parents who live with their children and non-elderly siblings who live together as one household;
  • Required periodic reporting and retrospective budgeting;
  • Prohibited using Federal funds for outreach;
  • Replaced the FSP in Puerto Rico with a block grant for nutrition assistance;
  • Counted retirement accounts as resources;
  • Created a State option to require job search of applicants as well as participants; and
  • Increased disqualification periods for voluntary quitters.

Recognition of the severe domestic hunger problem in the latter half of the 1980s led to incremental improvements in the FSP in 1985 and 1987, such as elimination of sales tax on food stamp purchases, reinstitution of categorical eligibility, increased resource limit for most households ($2,000), eligibility for the homeless, and expanded nutrition education.

In addition, the Food Stamp Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198) required all States to implement an Employment and Training (E&T) program by April 1, 1987.  Congress defined an E&T program as containing one or more of the following components: job search, job search training, workfare, work experience or training, or other programs as approved by the Secretary.  The new legislation replaced the disqualification for refusing to comply with job search with a disqualification for refusing, without good cause, to participate in an E&T program. The Food Stamp Act of 1985 also required the Secretary to establish performance standards for minimum participation in State E&T programs of persons subject to the work requirements. The legislation established that States were required to reimburse E&T participants for expenses incurred through participation in an E&T program, but States could cap these reimbursements at $25 per person per month.  The Food Stamp Act of 1985 also outlined the financial characteristics of E&T programs, providing annual Federal grants for E&T State operations and 50 percent Federal reimbursement for State agency E&T expenses above the grant levels (including the cost of participant reimbursements).

The Hunger Prevention Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-435) and the Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act in 1990 (P.L. 101-624) foretold the improvements that would be coming. The 1988 and 1990 legislation accomplished the following:

  • Increased benefits by applying a multiplication factor to Thrifty Food Plan costs;
  • Made outreach an optional activity for States;
  • Excluded advance earned income tax credits as income;
  • Simplified procedures for calculating medical deductions;
  • Instituted periodic adjustments of the minimum benefit;
  • Authorized nutrition education grants;
  • Established severe penalties for violations by individuals or participating firms; and
  • Established EBT as an issuance alternative.

Throughout this era, significant players were principally committee chairmen, namely Congressmen Leland, Hall, Foley, Panetta, and de la Garza in addition to Senator Leahy.

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is an electronic system that allows a recipient to authorize transfer of their government benefits from a Federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received. Benefits are delivered to clients on a debit card.  The first Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) pilot began in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1984.

The Hunger Prevention Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-435), was signed into law on September 19, 1988, and permitted one or more pilot projects to test whether the use of benefit cards or other automated or electronic benefit delivery systems could enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of operations for both program administrators and recipients.

Following this initiative, the Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act of November 28, 1990 (P.L. 101-624), established EBT as an issuance alternative and permitted the Department to continue to conduct EBT demonstration projects. 

On August 10, 1993, the Conference Report for the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66), included a manager’s statement strongly urging the Secretary to encourage State agencies to develop and establish EBT systems.

This was followed by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of August 22, 1996 (P.L. 104-193), which mandated that States implement EBT systems before October 1, 2002.

A national standard of interoperability and portability applicable to electronic food stamp benefit transactions was established by the Electronic Benefit Transfer Interoperability and Portability Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-171) on February 11, 2000.  In Puerto Rico, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was replaced in 1982 by a block grant program, called the Nutrition Assistance Program. Consequently, Puerto Rico is not interoperable with other States. 

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 of May 13, 2002 (P.L. 107-171), allowed group homes and institutions to redeem EBT benefits directly through banks in areas where EBT has been implemented rather than going through authorized wholesalers or other retailers.  This Act also required USDA to submit a report not later than October 1, 2003, to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees describing the status of EBT systems in each State.

State food stamp agencies worked with contractors to procure EBT systems for delivery of Food Stamp and other State-administered benefit programs and benefitted from technological innovations in the commercial sector. As of July 2004, all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Guam operated statewide, citywide, and territory-wide EBT systems to issue SNAP benefits. 

EBT helped cut back on food stamp fraud by creating an electronic record of each food stamp transaction, making it easier to identify violations.  The rate of trafficking (primarily the exchange of food stamps for cash) went from nearly 4 percent in the 1990’s down to around 1 percent after EBT was fully implemented.

In many States, EBT is also used to deliver the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, the Federal block-grant program operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, and other State Programs.

USDA will rollout EBT Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) for all States and territories by 2020.  

1992 – Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program State Plans Approval

In 1992, seven States had the first approved Food Stamp Nutrition Education (FSNE) State Plans. These States were New Hampshire, Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Washington.  State Plans are optional and encourage States to provide nutrition messages that focus on reinforcing the link between food security and a healthy diet through nutrition training, information, and material distribution to eligible households.  The goal of FSNE is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for Food Stamps will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose active lifestyles consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and USDA’s food guidance system.

By 1993, major changes in food stamp benefits had arrived. The Mickey Leland Childhood Hunger Relief Act (P.L. 103-66) provided for $2.8 billion in benefit increases over FY 1984-1988. Leon Panetta, in his new role as OMB Director, played a major role, as did Senator Leahy. Substantive changes included:

  • Eliminated the shelter deduction cap beginning January 1, 1997;
  • Provided a deduction for legally binding child support payments made to non-household members;
  • Raised the cap on the dependent care deduction from $160 to $200 for children under 2 years old and $175 for all other dependents;
  • Improved employment and training (E&T) dependent care reimbursements;
  • Increased the FMV test for vehicles to $4,550 on September 1, 1994 and $4,600 on October 1, 1995, then annually adjusting the value from $5,000 on October 1, 1996;
  • Mandated asset accumulation demonstration projects; and
  • Simplified the household definition.

After participation contracted during the mid and late 1980s, participation began to increase again in the early 1990s with each year hitting a new record high until the peak in 1994 of 27.5 million people.

The mid-1990s was a period of welfare reform. Many States had waivers of the rules for the cash welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) before major welfare reform legislation was enacted in 1996. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) (P.L. 104-193) removed the entitlement of recipients to AFDC and replaced that with a new block grant to States called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

Although the FSP was reauthorized in the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act (P.L. 104-127), also known as the 1996 Farm Bill, major changes to the program were enacted through PRWORA. Among them were:

  • Eliminated eligibility of most legal immigrants for food stamps;
  • Placed a time limit on food stamp receipt of three out of 36 months for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who are not working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a work program;
  • Reduced the maximum allotments by setting them at 100 percent of the change in the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) from 103 percent of the change in the TFP;
  • Froze the standard deduction, the vehicle limit, and the minimum benefit;
  • Set the shelter cap at graduated specified levels up to $300 by FY 2001, and permitting States to make use of the standard utility allowance mandatory;
  • Revised provisions for disqualification, including comparable disqualification with other means-tested programs; and
  • Required States to implement EBT before Oct. 1, 2002.

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA) (P.L. 105-33) and the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Act of 1998 (AREERA) (P.L. 105-185) made some changes to these provisions, most significantly:

  • More than doubled Employment and Training (E&T) funds, but required States use at least 80 percent of those funds on providing nonexcepted ABAWDs with work program opportunities;
  • Allowed States to exempt up to 15 percent of the estimated number of ABAWDs who would otherwise be ineligible;
  • Restored eligibility for certain elderly, disabled and child immigrants who resided in the United States when PRWORA was enacted; and
  • Cut administrative funding for States to account for certain administrative costs that previously had been allocated to the AFDC program and now were required to be allocated to the FSP.

The FY 2001 agriculture appropriations bill (P.L. 106-387) included two significant changes to the FSP. The legislation increased the excess shelter cap to $340 in FY 2001 and then indexed the cap to changes in the Consumer Price Index for all consumers each year beginning in FY 2002. The legislation also allowed States to use the vehicle limit they use in a TANF assistance program if it would result in a lower attribution of resources for the household.

2002 – The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act

Participation declined throughout the late 1990s, even more so than expected based on the changes in PRWORA and falling unemployment. Program access and simplification of program rules were a major focus of proposed legislation and of major regulations promulgated by the Department. In May 2002, The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L 107-171), also known as the 2002 Farm Bill, was enacted. Major changes to the FSP included:

  • Restored eligibility for food stamps to qualified aliens who have been in the United States at least five years;
  • Restored eligibility for immigrants receiving certain disability payments and for children, regardless of how long they have been in the country;
  • Adjusted the standard deduction to vary by household size and indexed each year for inflation;
  • Reformed the quality control (QC) system by basing financial sanctions on consecutive years of high error rate;
  • Replaced enhanced funding for States with low error rates with a performance bonus system based on several different measures of performance;
  • Provided States with several options to simplify the program, including aligning the definition of income and/or resources to that used in TANF or Medicaid, adopting a simplified reporting system, and providing transitional benefits for clients leaving TANF;
  • Cut E&T funding and replaced the requirement of targeting at least 80 percent of E&T funds toward ABAWDs with a separate allocation to reimburse States that ensure availability of work opportunities to nonexcepted ABAWDS; and
  • Eliminated the cost neutrality requirement for EBT systems.

2008 – Participation Milestone

In 2008, participation in SNAP hit a new high of 28.2 million people following a significant decline in participation through the late 1990s.  Participation continued to hit new record highs every year until 2013.   

2008 – The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act

The 2008 Farm Bill (The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) (P.L. 110–234) was enacted May 22, 2008, through an override of the President’s veto. The new law increased the commitment to Federal food assistance programs by more than $10 billion over the next 10 years. In efforts to fight stigma, the law changed the name of the Federal program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP as of October 1, 2008, and changed the name of the Food Stamp Act of 1977 to the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. States maintained flexibility to name the program on their own but were encouraged to change the name to SNAP or another alternate name.  In fact, more than 10 States had already changed the names of their programs by this time.

Significantly, the 2008 Farm Bill also institutionalized priorities that FNS had focused on for many years including strengthening integrity, simplifying administration, maintaining State flexibility, improving health through nutrition education, and improving access.  With regards to nutrition education, Section 4111 clarified the legal basis and requirements for nutrition education in SNAP.  With the program’s name change, the nutrition education component became known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education or SNAP-Ed.

Benefits were augmented for most households on October 1, 2008, due to the increase in the minimum benefit and standard deduction, and elimination of the cap on the deduction for childcare expenses. The new law also expanded eligibility by indexing the asset limits to inflation, and excluding combat pay as well as most retirement and education accounts as countable resources. The law modernized the program by acknowledging EBT as the standard issuance vehicle and de-obligating coupons one year from enactment.  The Farm Bill also provided $20 million in mandatory funding for a project known as the Healthy Incentives Pilot to test point-of-purchase incentives for healthful foods and authorized appropriations for other similar projects.

Other important changes included:

  • Extended simplified reporting to all households;
  • Extended transitional benefits to those leaving a State-funded cash assistance program;
  • Allowed use of E&T funds for job retention services;
  • Clarified that E&T volunteers are not subject to a participation limit;
  • Stipulated that State agencies must issue monthly benefit allotments to individuals in one lump sum unless a benefit correction is necessary;
  • Established standards for expungement of benefits and for moving benefits off line;
  • Prohibited interchange fees on EBT transactions;
  • Required USDA to set standards for major changes in program design;
  • Required States to properly testing as a condition of Federal financial participation in State automation systems;
  • Prohibited State agencies from allowing from collecting claims from a household and to assert a claim against a State in cases of major systems failure;
  • Offered States the option of implementing a telephonic signature process;
  • Codified regulations regarding bilingual access, civil rights requirements and nutrition education;
  • Disqualified clients who intentionally obtain cash by purchasing and then discarding a product to obtain the deposit or intentionally sell food purchased with SNAP benefits; and
  • Allowed more flexibility in setting disqualification periods and fines for certain retailer violations.

2009 – American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) (P.L. 111-5) was passed in response to the Great Recession, which began in December of 2007, to stimulate the economy and facilitate economic recovery.  Among the provisions in ARRA was the authority to increase SNAP benefit levels.  Since SNAP households spend nearly 97 percent of their benefits within the first month, the increased benefits were viewed as providing an immediate economic stimulus to the economy.  SNAP households received the increased benefits between April 1, 2009, and October 31, 2013. 

For a four-person household, the enhanced benefits amounted to approximately $80 extra per month in 2009.  The value of the enhanced benefit was to gradually phase-out as the value of the enhanced benefit was naturally eroded by the inflationary increases in food prices (and corresponding increases in the annual SNAP maximum allotments).  However, the enhanced benefits were sunset early on November 1, 2013, to help pay for a provision in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. The Recovery Act also provided nearly $300 million to States for SNAP administrative expenses in FY 2009 and 2010.

2010 – Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) (P.L. 111-296) which reauthorized the school nutrition programs, was signed into law on December 13, 2010, and had implications for SNAP nutrition education.  It restructured SNAP-Ed as the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program, changing its financial structure to that of 100 percent Federal grant funding to States with no State contribution or match. The Act also reshaped SNAP-Ed by including an emphasis on programming centered on obesity prevention in addition to nutrition education and the promotion of physical activity.  Moreover, activities were to be evidence-based and delivered through individual and group-based strategies, comprehensive multi-level interventions, and/or community and public health approaches. Many SNAP-Ed efforts increased their focus on policy, systems, and environmental change (PSE) interventions, with a stronger emphasis on partnerships. 

Participating State agencies submit an annual SNAP-Ed Plan to FNS. This plan outlines the State’s nutrition education activities and budget for the following year.  The number of State agencies with approved SNAP-Ed Plans increased from seven in 1992 to 52 State agencies by FY2010.   Federal funds approved for SNAP-Ed also grew from $661,000 in 1992 to over $380 million in 2010. This amount represents the Federal share of States’ total approved funds for SNAP-Ed.  In FY 2017, Federal funding for the grant program to 50 participating State agencies and 3 U.S. territories totaled $414 million.

2013 – Participation Milestone

In 2013, participation hit a new record high of 47.6 million people.  In the years since this record high, participation has steadily decreased to 42.1 million people in 2017.

2014 – Agricultural Act

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79) also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, was signed into law by President Obama on February 7, 2014.  Its passage was over 2-years in the making.  In the summer of 2013, the House of Representatives split the Farm Bill into two separate bills with farm programs in one bill and the nutrition programs in another.  The Senate passed a Farm Bill re-combining these two sections and this bill was the basis for the conference committee’s reconciliation in early 2014.

The 2014 Farm Bill made many important changes to SNAP.  Among the retailer related provisions, it required FNS to update the stocking standards used to authorize SNAP retailers and provided additional resources to fight retailer fraud.  It also called for pilot testing the use of mobile devices to redeem SNAP benefits and to pilot test accepting SNAP benefits through online transactions.  The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the definition of retailer to include government agencies and not-for-profits that purchase and deliver food to the elderly and/or disabled, thus allowing for testing of home delivery for these vulnerable populations, and allowed agricultural producers who market directly to consumers to accept EBT.  The Farm Bill also authorized Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grants to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables among SNAP participants at retailers like grocery stores and farmers markets.

Other retailer or EBT related provisions included:

  • Prohibited SNAP benefits being used to purchase large amounts of bottles/cans for cash refunds;
  • Required that retailers (with some exceptions) pay for EBT equipment, supplies, implementation and related services;
  • Eliminated manual vouchers (unless necessary in disaster or EBT system failure); 
  • Required  retailers to enforce sales restrictions by using scanning or product lookup entry, unless the retailer is located in an area with significantly limited access to food;
  • Expanded approval of retailers to consider whether the store is located in an area with limited access to food;
  • Allowed USDA to require States to act on excessive EBT card replacements; and
  • Required States to submit plans and reports to USDA if they elect to operate a restaurant meals program for the homeless, elderly and/or disabled.

The 2014 Farm Bill also made important changes to SNAP certification policy.  These changes included requiring that households receive at least $20 in LIHEAP benefits to qualify for the Standard Utility Allowance (SUA).  The law also disqualified households where a member receives substantial lottery or gambling winnings from participating in SNAP until they meet normal income and resource standards.  The 2014 Farm Bill made important changes to allowable outreach activities, including prohibiting the use of radio, television and billboard ads from being used to promote SNAP benefits and enrollment (with the exception of D-SNAP).  It also authorized a study to understand the use of cash benefits in the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) in Puerto Rico, and to phase out cash benefits unless the study found adverse effects of doing so.  The 2014 Farm Bill also authorized a study in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to examine the feasibility of operating regular SNAP on the islands.

SNAP E&T played an important part in the 2014 Farm Bill. The debate on the bill in the House reflected differing views regarding the role of work requirements in SNAP, which brought new attention to SNAP E&T.  Members of Congress wanted SNAP E&T to help SNAP participants move into employment and toward self-sufficiency. SNAP E&T related provisions included in the 2014 Farm included:

  • Authorized $200 million in new funding for up to 10 three-year pilot projects to rigorously evaluate new approaches to move SNAP participants into work or higher paying jobs;
  • Required FNS to develop E&T reporting measures for States;
  • Created new FNS monitoring and oversight authority of State E&T programs, and allows that a State with inadequate employment and training outcomes maybe required to modify their SNAP E&T program; and
  • Adjusted Employment and Training (E&T) funding requirements.

Other certification policy related provisions included:

  • Excluded medical marijuana from being treated as a medical expense for the purposes of determining the excess medical expense deduction;
  • Limited the types of programs that count as part of the student exemption for SNAP Employment and Training programs;
  • Prohibited anyone convicted of certain felonies from receiving SNAP if they are not in compliance with the terms of the sentence or are a fleeing felon;
  • Required States to verify income using wage data from the National Directory of New Hires; and
  • Required States to establish an immigration verification system to verify immigration status and an income and eligibility verification system.

Quality control related provisions included:

  • Set the Quality Control (QC) error threshold at no more than $37 in FY 2014 and to be adjusted annually based on the increase in the Thrifty Food Plan of the preceding year;
  • Eliminated USDA's ability to waive any portion of a State's QC liability;
  • Required high performance bonus payments to be used for SNAP expenses including investments in technology, improvements in administration, and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse; and
  • Required States to submit an annual report to USDA verifying that the State did not issue benefits to individuals who are deceased or disqualified from SNAP.

SNAP-Ed and other provisions included:

  • Authorized physical activity as a nutrition education activity;
  • Required State agencies, local agencies, institutions, and contractors to cooperate with USDA and its contractors on evaluations and research; and
  • Required USDA to consult with an interagency workgroup established by the Office of Management and Budget to create data exchange standards for information required to be reported by States.