Eventually Australia follows the
United States. This time
it has only taken 40 years for our politicians to talk about food stamps. Lyndon
Baines Johnson will be delighted to know his influence lives on from the

Federal Families
Minister Mal Brough at the weekend floated the idea of paying welfare recipients
in kind rather than cash for a proportion of their government benefits. There
was a predictable outcry from welfare groups describing the proposal as
paternalistic and offensive.

There is no such
outcry in the USA where food stamps of
the kind Mr Brough advocates have long been an important part of the welfare
system. The first recipient
of food stamps in the United
States was Mabel McFiggin
of Rochester, New
York; the first retailer
to redeem the stamps was Joseph Mutolo; and the first retailer caught violating
the program was Nick Salzano in October 1939.

From May 1939 until
the spring of 1943 people on relief were permitted 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.

Over the course of
nearly four years, the first FSP reached approximately 20 million people at one
time or another in nearly half of the counties in the U.S – peak participation
was 4 million – at a total cost of $262 million.

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

President Kennedy’s
first Executive Order in 1961 called for expanded food distribution and, on
February 2,
1961, he announced that
food stamp pilot programs would be initiated. 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.

Mr and Mrs Alderson
Muncy of Paynesville, West Virginia, on May 29, 1961, used stamps to buy a can
of pork and beans at Henderson’s Supermarket. It was President
Lyndon Baines Johnson with his War on Poverty and promise of The Great Society
who turned the experiment in to a major plank of the American welfare system.
The Food Stamp Act passed by Congress in 1964.

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