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Fun Facts about Free Government Food

Updated on July 13, 2010


The generosity of the United States of America is well documented throughout the world. Many programs have been put in place to provide free government food for United States residents.

Free Government Food: The Snap

Federal Food Stamp programs, currently referred to as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), are administered by individual states with funding from the USDA (United Stated Department of Agriculture). SNAP feeds about 35 million people each month. The total population of the United States is approximately 310 million. Monthly benefits are administered through plastic cards, similar to credit or debit cards. Recipients are not charged sales tax on purchases made with the cards. The cards can be used to purchase food at most major chains and local grocery stores. Information about these programs can be found at the USDA web site, which provides links to many states that have online applications.

According to USDA reports, 29 percent of SNAP recipients in 2008 had earnings and 40 percent lived in a household with earnings. 49 percent were children and an additional 9 percent were over age 59. 28 percent of the beneficiaries were women of working age and 14 percent of the beneficiaries were men who were old enough to work. The average household receiving SNAP benefits was granted $222 per month.

In California, for example, food stamps in the SNAP program are available to Californians who own a car and/or a house. An expedited program has been put in place to serve Californians who have less than $100 in assets and less than $150 in monthly income. The expedited program is designed to get food to people in less than 3 days. Part of the application process for this free government food is a face-to-face interview. The face-to-face interview may be waived if one or more of the following conditions are met:

  • The applicant is 65 years old/or older and does not have someone to represent them.
  • The applicant has a disability and other household members have no income.
  • The applicant lives in a remote area.
  • It is hard for the applicant to get a ride.
  • The applicant is sick or caring for another household member.
  • The weather is/or has been bad for a long time.


In Fiscal Year 2002, Congress budgeted $37.9 billion to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to administer all nutrition programs under an umbrella called the FNS, or Food Nutrition Service. On March 13, 2008, Nancy Montanez Johner, Under Secretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, testified before Congress. She requested a fiscal year 2009 budget of $64.1 billion. She anticipated an enrollment of 31 million children in School Lunch programs and 11.2 million children in School Breakfast programs. She also noted an increase of 11 million enrollments over fiscal year 2001 totals.

School Lunches for Free Government Food

School lunch (and breakfast) programs are administered throughout the United States. In Wheeling, West Virginia, the Ohio County School District prepares and serves about 4500 breakfasts and lunches each day. The district serves the greater Wheeling area. Throughout the Summer months, when school is closed, the district also provides about 850 meals per day to children at 10 different feeding sites including churches, schools, youth centers, and housing developments. Some students are eligible for free meals, others are eligible for reduced price meals. As part of the National School Lunch Program, after-school snacks are also provided to some students.

Interesting Facts about Free Government Food

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) categorizes and regulates school lunch programs across the United States. In 1981, during the early days of Ronald Reagan's presidential term, Congress cut about $1 billion in funding from the school lunch program. Bureaucrats in the USDA scrambled to compose balanced meals for America's children who ate free government food at school. Experiential data indicated that many vegetables served to students were discarded rather than consumed. In order to meet budget requirements and reduce waste, officials considered reclassifying tomato ketchup as an acceptable school lunch vegetable. The idea fizzled, but not before public scrutiny caused major embarrassment for the administration.

The first food stamp program in the United States lasted from 1939 to 1943. It was created in response to what was termed "unmarketable food surpluses" and "widespread unemployment". It was terminated when those conditions were deemed to no longer exist. A total of $222 million was spent over the life of the program. The system was configured as a matching program; recipients were permitted to purchase 'Orange' food stamps and were given 50 cents worth of blue food stamps for each $1 they spent on the Orange stamps. The Blue stamps could be exchanged for food that was determined to be surplus; the Orange stamps could be used to purchase any type of food.


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