Richard Nixon

Food stamps were a bipartisan program until recently

Historically, Republicans did as much to build up Food Stamps as Democrats

Back in the good ol’ days when our leaders were more concerned with solving problems than undermining partisan opponents, America created one of the pillars of our social safety net… food stamps.

While considered a creation of Democrats (for good reason), Republicans like Nixon and Dole played key roles in creating the food stamp program we know today. Only very recently have food stamps, and other forms of assistance, become the enemy of Republican ideology.

Food stamps, as we know it today, is a fairly modern invention.

Yes, Roosevelt created something similar during the Depression but that was short-lived, ending in 1943 with World War II. And Kennedy had a small, pilot program.

But the enduring program of food stamps of today began with Johnson signing the Food Stamp Act of 1964 as part of his Great Society program.

Johnson’s Great Society idea was a simple one… it asks 1) what does a great society look like and 2) what can we do to make that happen? Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” and Trump’s “Make America Great” are alternative responses to the same questions raised by Johnson.

Johnson authorized food stamps because he didn’t see how hunger and starvation, especially among children, was compatible with a great society. Especially in the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on Earth.

Nixon agreed, saying, “That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.” While Johnson created the program, Nixon was instrumental in growing it.

Though he often receives little credit, Nixon grew the food stamp program 500% in just 5 year. It skyrocketed from 3 million recipients in 1969 to 15 million by 1974.

Republican Senator and Presidential candidate, Bob Dole, was instrumental in crafting the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 which modernized the program into the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program we know today.

It’s hard to reconcile the fact that the stock market’s record highs while 40 million American are food insecure, many of them children. It’s time to revisit Johnson’s question about what’s acceptable in a Great Society and remember that not long ago, hunger in America was a bipartisan problem we worked together to solve.

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