Times West Virginian
The history of the food stamp program dates back to 1939, on the heels of the Great Depression. America’s people were starving, going without to feed their children, humbly accepting charity where charity was to be had. It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough food to go around. The food produced by farmers was stacking up in bins and barns in surplus — the poorest just didn’t have the money to purchase it.
“We got a picture of a gorge, with farm surpluses on one cliff and under-nourished city folks with outstretched hands on the other,” said Milo Perkins, the first administrator of the program. “We set out to find a practical way to build a bridge across that chasm.”
The bridge lasted for four years, assisted 20 million people and delivered $262 million worth of food onto the tables of hungry families in more than half the country.
But the program ended because food surpluses weren’t there anymore and unemployment was dramatically decreased. It was, after all, war time. And Rosie was riveting during the day and tying a yellow bow around the tree for her husband away in Europe or the Pacific.
But following the war, the influx of returning soldiers meant fewer jobs for a flooded workforce and unemployment and poverty began to take its toll on the country again.
A promise was made by a young Democrat, right here in West Virginia. On the campaign trail, a young John F. Kennedy told West Virginians that he would enact the food stamp program again to assist the neediest families. And he did so on Feb. 2, 1961, with West Virginia residents Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy of Paynesville being the first recipients on May 29, 1961.
By 1964, a bill to establish a permanent food stamp program was proposed — one of the biggest advocates of the program was then-Sen. Bob Dole who promised the “bill eliminates the greedy and feeds the needy.” Part of the agriculture bill, the food stamp program was intended to boost the agricultural sector and feed hungry families.
Since then, it has expanded and then cut, changed, modified and then expanded again, to the point where it is a $78 billion program today.
And some lawmakers say it’s swelling and needs to be cut down and managed. And for the first time in more than 40 years, the House passed the agriculture bill earlier this month with no provision for the food stamp program to gain conservative support for the legislation. They say they’ll take it up separately, but have given no date or any time frame.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the program if Congress fails to act. You see, they can’t agree on fine-tuned cuts and automatic sequestration took place — giant, broad cuts to all programs creating huge problems since spring. This time, if Congress can’t agree on food stamps, the program will just continue to be funded at the current level.
No one should go to bed hungry. And though so many talk about cheating the system or living off welfare or mandatory drug testing for benefits, who can deny that there are people, a vast number of people, who need temporary help to purchase food? Of course, they disagree on the number of people who need the help or how much help they need and for how long.
So we took the fate of food stamps to our readers on our online poll question, which can be found each week at www.timeswv.com. We asked our readers, “Last week, Republicans in the House passed a farm bill that did not include funding food stamps. What do you think this move could mean for the program?”
• Parties can work together to hammer out a program that makes sense — 4.24 percent.
• Congress can’t agree on which direction the sun sets. I have no concerns the food stamp program will end — 8.48 percent.
• This is a critical program that needs to be preserved, especially on the heels of a recession — 15.15 percent.
• The program is a huge financial burden and the fat ought to be trimmed down — 72.12 percent.
So it looks like a strong majority of our readers believe the program should be pared down. After all, there are an awful lot of zeroes in $78 billion.
This week, let’s talk about Rolling Stone’s decision to feature the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing on its cover, very similar to the appearance of a rock star. What do you think?
Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.