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Food Stamps Gets a Facelift

Snap Today the Food Stamp Program received a long overdue name change. As of October 1, 2008, the program will be called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The 2008 Farm Bill, enacted earlier this year, authorized the change. Many advocates had been calling for a name change to reflect the modernization of the program.

The Food Stamp Program, established in the early 1960s, originally provided food assistance in the form of paper stamps. These coupons were issued in denominations of 1, 5, and 10 dollars and could be used to purchase food.

The program was modernized in the late 1990s when paper stamps were phased out and replaced with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, similar to debit cards. Monthly benefits are transferred to EBT cards, which participants may use at authorized retail stores for the purchase of food. The switch to EBT has greatly improved the program's efficiency, transferring benefits more quickly and accurately and reducing administrative costs.

Other program improvements made in the 2008 Farm Bill also go into effect today. Some of the important changes won by Bread for the World members include:

  • Benefit Erosion: Increasing the standard deduction partially makes up for benefit erosion by providing a typical working family with an additional $4 to $5 a month in 2009. Indexing the standard deduction to inflation ensures that benefits keep better pace with the cost of living and will not erode in value over time. Impact: about 10 million people.
  • Minimum Monthly Benefit: Participants whose income qualifies them for the smallest level of assistance will see an increase in their monthly benefit from $10, where it was fixed for three decades, to $14 a month in 2009. By indexing it for inflation, the minimum benefit will now keep pace with the cost of living. Impact: about 780,000 people, mostly seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Dependent Care Cap: Families may now deduct the full cost of child care or care of an elderly parent, thereby qualifying for more food assistance. Impact: about 100,000 households.
  • Asset Rules: Exempts retirement and education savings from asset test so households falling on hard times no longer have to spend down their nest egg or child's education fund in order to qualify for nutrition assistance. Impact: over 80,000 people.

USDA will be doing outreach to notify partners, retailers, and agencies of these and other changes. For more information, visit the USDA website.

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Comments

SNAP beneficiaries are really going to be living high on the hog now.

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