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USDA Teams Up with the Smithsonian to Preserve the Past

At an event at the National Museum of American History on Thursday, Kevin Concannon,Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, signed a gift of transfer donating a collection of historic food coupons, proof sheets, early artist designs, printers plates and sample Electronic Benefit Transfer cards showcasing nearly 40 years (1960 – 2009) of the Food Stamp Program (FSP).

These rare materials will become part of the museum’s National Numismatic Collection, which consists of more than 1.5 million objects. The NNC includes materials documenting the history of the early FSP that began with the 1935 Agricultural Adjustment Act and lasted until 1943, as well as other forms of emergency currency, such as clamshells used by Americans during the Great Depression. With the new acquisition, the museum will hold the single most comprehensive research collection pertaining to food coupons.

At the event, US Concannon said “these items represent an important conversion of history in our country,” as he talked about ending the era of food coupons for a more modern “efficient and normative” way to issue benefits. Since 2004, all benefits have been issued electronically, through Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, similar to a debit cards.  The newer system provides users confidentiality, de-stigmatizing the program and greatly decreasing incidents of fraud.

The FSP began as a pilot program in the 1960s under President John F. Kennedy. Today’s program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has the highest participation in the program’s history, serving nearly 38 million people, half of whom are children. SNAP is the largest of USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s 15 nutrition assistance programs that work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger.

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