Rep. Leonor Sullivan (D-Mo.) was one among solely 11 girls within the Home in 1953. Aided by rising city, Democratic energy within the Home, her efforts laid the groundwork for SNAP.
The Supplemental Diet Help Program (SNAP), previously referred to as meals stamps, is the nation’s most necessary meals help packages for low-income People, and one among its most necessary anti-poverty measures. Earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP supplemented the meals buying energy of some 40 million People, at a price of about $60 billion a 12 months. Demand for SNAP, and program spending, ballooned with the pandemic’s financial dislocations, and this system performed a key function in maintaining charges of meals insecurity and poverty from worsening.
SNAP’s centrality to the nation’s social welfare security web is unintentional. In actual fact, the unique meals stamp program piloted throughout the Nice Despair was designed to allow low-income households to “buy” surplus agricultural commodities that in any other case may need gone to waste, which in flip offered wanted revenue to meals retailers, processors and farmers. Farm surpluses dried up with the onset of World Conflict II, and the meals stamp program was discontinued.
Leonor Sullivan had the glory of sponsoring the [Food Stamp Act of 1964] within the Home, and fiercely defended this system in opposition to conservative opposition by way of the rest of her Home profession.
However some in Congress noticed meals stamps as an efficient solution to get meals to these in want and fought to revive this system. Chief amongst them was former Consultant Leonor Sullivan (D-Mo.). Sullivan was first elected to the Home in 1952 from a district beforehand represented by her late husband, not an atypical path to Congress for girls in these days. This was after she received in opposition to six male candidates in a democratic major and overcame the native get together’s opposition to a girl candidate. She was one among solely 11 girls within the Home in 1953; there have been solely 18 when she retired in 1977, as in comparison with 150 in the present day.
Sullivan got here to Congress decided to assist her constituents, lots of them low-income Black People who had come up the Mississippi throughout the Nice Migration and noticed meals stamps as an environment friendly and extra socially acceptable solution to tackle starvation in her district. Efforts to convey again meals stamps have been opposed by rural conservatives who wished nothing to do with “welfare,” and by the Eisenhower administration, which most popular to distribute surplus meals by way of native aid businesses. However Sullivan proved persistent and adept, utilizing Home guidelines to realize her targets.
The excerpts under, from my guide on the politics and historical past of SNAP, element Sullivan’s legislative technique, aided by rising city, democratic energy within the Home, which finally led Congress to approve meals stamp “pilot tasks.” New president John Kennedy would put the meals stamp program into impact, and its success led Kennedy to suggest what turned the Meals Stamp Act of 1964. Sullivan had the glory of sponsoring the invoice within the Home, and fiercely defended this system in opposition to conservative opposition by way of the rest of her Home profession.
Of notice, whereas Sullivan co-sponsored federal laws to make sure equal pay for girls, she was the one lady in Congress to vote in opposition to ratification of the Equal Rights Modification.
Within the Home, efforts to ascertain some type of meals stamps more and more have been pushed by city democrats like Rep. Sullivan, who, upon getting into Congress in 1953, submitted the primary of a collection of payments authorizing a stamp program and shortly turned recognized for her relentless concentrate on meals help.
As Sullivan later defined, “I turned deeply involved by the accounts of undernourishment amongst needy schoolchildren and others in St. Louis at about the identical time the principle concern on agricultural issues right here in Washington gave the impression to be the unmanagein a position surpluses of meals. The extra I considered this contradiction the extra indignant I turned.”
—Bosso, p. 56
One other level of potential leverage got here throughout negotiations between the Home and Senate over the Agricultural Act of 1956, the newest renewal of the “farm invoice” that approved commodity packages. The persistent Sullivan took benefit of acute intercrop and inter-chamber divisions on commodity packages as a chance to bypass an intransigent Home Committee on Agriculture and persuade sympathetic convention committee negotiators so as to add language authorizing the USDA to run a meals stamp program.
The compromise invoice handed each chambers with the assistance of votes by city democrats, who supported meals stamps, solely to be vetoed by Eisenhower over numerous disagreements, one among them over Sullivan’s modification. The Home, cut up alongside crop-specific coverage variations in addition to get together traces, sustained Eisenhower’s veto. Congress then handed a revision, which Eisenhower signed, directing the USDA to research the feasibility of a meals stamp program. The division did as mandated, with obvious reluctance.
Whereas the workers specialists who wrote the January 1957 report acknowledged the potential of meals stamps to enhance vitamin and even instructed methods to enhance on the unique plan (notably, by simplifying the two-stamp construction), USDA leaders nonetheless suggested in opposition to a brand new stamp program on grounds of probably excessive prices and modest impacts on surplus discount.
Sullivan was unimpressed by their logic, given the hundreds of thousands being spent to buy and retailer surplus commodities: “I’m sorry the Division of Agriculture has resisted so strongly, so continuously, so cruelly, the concept of channeling some for the mountain of surplus commodities to those actually poor People. True, there may be in existence a surplus food-distribution program, however to characterize that program in a phrase, I’d say it’s wretched.”
In 1959 Rep. Sullivan inserted language into yet one more renewal of PL 480 [which funded U.S. international food aid], directing the USDA to run meals stamp “demonstration” tasks. This tactic had been unsuccessful two years earlier, however the legislative panorama had modified with the 1958 midterm elections, which noticed democrats improve their management of the Home by 48 seats and the Senate by 13, their largest majorities since 1940.
Democrats made their best good points in japanese and midwestern cities, within the course of shifting the congressional get together’s stability of energy away from its long-dominant rural southern wing. The impacts have been evident throughout Home ground consideration of Sullivan’s modification. Whereas rural Democrats nonetheless regarded meals stamps as “welfare,” in addition they supported PL 480 overseas meals support as a “farmers program” and recognized that their city colleagues now had the votes to dam reauthorization if Sullivan’s modification was not noted. Sullivan made clear the technique:
“Standing by itself, my invoice is likely to be vetoed. The Republican members of the Committee on Agriculture solidly opposed it, each one. Mr. Benson says he doesn’t need it. He already has the authority to institute a meals stamp plan comparable to known as for on this modification, however he received’t provoke it on his personal authority. He has informed Congress … that if the Congress needs him to run a meals stamp program, it should enact laws for such a program. Placing such laws on this invoice is the easiest way to adjust to that demand, and set up a extra readily clever system of distributing surplus meals to our needy.”
Democratic leaders have been wanting to keep away from an intraparty battle heading into the 1960 elections. Former Home Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) apparently requested Rep. Sullivan what she wished, “and I informed him.” After no small quantity of maneuvering, the perimeters agreed on a compromise: Largely alongside get together traces, and with many Southern Democrats abstaining, the Home in late August 1959 handed an modification authorizing, however not requiring, the USDA to run meals stamp “demonstration” tasks and as much as $250 million per 12 months over two years to fund them. The Senate authorised the modification quickly after, additionally largely alongside get together traces.
Excerpts from Why SNAP Works: A Political Historical past—and Protection—of the Meals Stamp Program by Christopher John Bosso, printed by the College of California Press. © 2023
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