Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dinner=cans of beef or pork and bags of dried beans.

Thirty-five years ago, as the year 1976 began, the Globe Times reported that amendments to the Food Stamp Act of 1964 were about to go into effect in Pennsylvania. Families receiving food stamps no longer had to purchase a portion of the food stamps, which on average required paying for half the food stamps allocated.  Also the stamps were no longer tied to food surpluses. In 1976 one in every fourteen Americans used food stamps. To be eligible the maximum income a family four could have was $542 a month or $6,540 a year. At or below this income level the family would receive $192 a month in food stamps. Therefore a family with income of $542 a month paid $96 for their $192 worth of food stamps.

     During the Great Depression, the increase in unemployed workers resulted in both a surplus of food and larger number of hungry Americans. As people were starving, farmers were burning their surplus corn for fuel. In 1933 the U.S. government found a way to pay farmers for their surplus food then transport the food to the families that needed it. This was a revolutionary idea, as never before did the Federal Government offered food to the poor. Up until this point local communities were responsible for taking care of the less fortunate.  

     The agency, Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) was created to administer the new program.  The effort gave much needed assistance to those citizens who needed it but there were problems. People had to walk miles to the closest food site and wait hours for the truck to arrive with one-pound cans of beef or pork, bags of dried beans, flour, cornmeal and occasionally butter and fresh fruit. Garments were also provided, manufactured by the WPA. The food allotments arrived monthly and consisted of the food that happened to be in surplus at the time. Supply was not guided by what was good nutritionally. The creation of a food stamp program in 1939 corrected many of these problems.  One could use food stamps at the local grocery store to purchase food items and government surplus foods.

     Today the food stamp program is called SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Eligible individuals or families are given an electronic benefits card that works like a debit card that you use at grocery stores. Your food stamp benefits are loaded onto your card depending on your benefits, which can range from $2 to over $1502 a month. To receive food stamps you need to meet requirements such as having less than $5,000 in assets. A family of four cannot earn more than $2,297 a month. That family would receive $668 a month for food.

     According to the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, in 2009, there was a 40% increase in use of food stamps by the residents of Northampton County and a 23% increase in Lehigh County. In 2010 12% of the population in Lehigh County received food stamps and 9.2% in Northampton County. This is a direct result of more people suffering from unemployment. In Northampton County unemployment rose 63% affecting 9.0% of the residents and in Lehigh County it rose 57% leaving 9.2% out of work in 2010. Second Harvest formed a partnership with Bethlehem food banks such as New Bethany Ministries, Holy Bethlel Pentecostal, Concordia Lutheran, Trinity Episcopal, Moravian Food Bank and many others to feed thousands of our neighbors each day.  The Animal Food Bank Services in Hellertown takes care of the pets during hard times for their owners.

You can apply for SNAP benefits on-line at: 
or in person at (Lehigh County) Lehigh County Assistance Office, 101 South 7th Street, Allentown, or (Northampton County) Northampton County Assistance Office, 201 Larry Holmes Drive, Easton.