Food Stamps in the 70s: A Historical Perspective

In the tumultuous decade of the 1970s, marked by economic downturns and social upheavals, food stamps emerged as a crucial lifeline for millions of Americans facing food insecurity. These stamps, issued by the federal government, provided a vital means for low-income families and individuals to purchase groceries and combat hunger.

This article delves into the history of food stamps in the 70s, exploring their physical appearance, value and denominations, distribution and usage, impact and significance, and their evolution compared to modern food assistance programs.

Physical Appearance

The food stamps issued in the 1970s were characterized by their distinct design, size, color scheme, and material.

Design and Size

The food stamps were rectangular in shape and measured approximately 2.25 inches in length and 1.5 inches in width. They featured a simple yet effective design, with the words “Food Stamps” printed prominently at the top. The stamps were designed to be easily recognizable and difficult to counterfeit.

Color Scheme and Graphics

The food stamps were printed in a vibrant blue and white color scheme. The background of the stamps was a light blue, while the text and graphics were printed in a dark blue. The stamps also featured a distinctive eagle graphic, which was placed in the upper right-hand corner.

The eagle graphic symbolized the strength and power of the United States government.


The food stamps were made from a durable paper material. The paper was thick and sturdy, making the stamps difficult to tear or damage. The stamps were also coated with a protective layer, which helped to prevent fading and wear.

Value and Denominations

Food stamps in the 1970s came in a range of denominations to accommodate different food budgets and family sizes. The most common denominations were:

  • $1
  • $2
  • $5
  • $10
  • $20

The value of each denomination was determined by the cost of food at the time. For example, a $1 food stamp could purchase about the same amount of food as $1 in cash.The purchasing power of food stamps during the 1970s varied depending on the cost of food.

In general, food stamps provided a significant discount on food purchases. For example, a family of four could receive up to $160 in food stamps per month, which would allow them to purchase a substantial amount of groceries.

Distribution and Usage

Obtaining food stamps in the 1970s was a streamlined process designed to assist eligible individuals and families in meeting their nutritional needs. The distribution system aimed to ensure that those who qualified could access food stamps conveniently and efficiently.

Eligibility for food stamps was determined based on income and household size. Individuals and families had to meet specific income thresholds and provide proof of their financial situation to qualify for assistance. Once eligibility was established, recipients would receive food stamps in the form of coupons or vouchers.

Where and How Food Stamps Could Be Used

Food stamps were widely accepted at grocery stores and authorized food retailers across the country. Recipients could use food stamps to purchase a variety of food items, including fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and bread. However, food stamps could not be used to purchase non-food items such as alcohol, tobacco, or pet food.

Impact and Significance

what did food stamps look like in the 70s

Food stamps, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), have played a pivotal role in addressing food insecurity in the United States. The program provides financial assistance to low-income individuals and families to purchase food. Over the years, SNAP has proven to be an effective tool in reducing hunger and improving the overall health and well-being of its recipients.

Improved Food Security

SNAP has a significant impact on reducing food insecurity, especially among children and seniors. Studies have consistently shown that households receiving SNAP benefits are less likely to experience food insecurity compared to those who are not.

Nutritional Benefits

SNAP not only helps alleviate hunger but also contributes to improved nutritional outcomes. Research indicates that children in SNAP households have higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, leading to better overall health and cognitive development.

Economic Impact

SNAP has a positive impact on the economy by stimulating food purchases and supporting local businesses. According to the USDA, every dollar spent on SNAP generates an estimated $1.50 in economic activity.

Long-Term Benefits

SNAP has long-term benefits that extend beyond immediate food assistance. Studies have found that children who grow up in SNAP households are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and have higher earnings as adults.

Comparison to Modern Food Assistance

In the 1970s, food stamps were paper coupons that came in various denominations. Today, food assistance is typically distributed electronically through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. While the physical form has changed, the value and denominations have remained relatively similar.

Physical Appearance

Food stamps in the 70s were rectangular pieces of paper printed with the USDA logo and the denomination. Modern EBT cards resemble debit cards, with a magnetic stripe or chip that stores the benefit amount. The EBT cards are typically issued by state or local agencies and can be used at authorized retailers.

Value and Denominations

The value of food stamps in the 70s ranged from $1 to $100, with the most common denominations being $1, $5, and $10. Today, the value of EBT benefits varies by household size and income, but the denominations are typically $1, $5, and $10.

Distribution and Usage

In the 70s, food stamps were distributed through local welfare offices or authorized retailers. Recipients could use the stamps to purchase food at grocery stores and other authorized retailers. Today, EBT benefits are typically loaded onto the recipient’s card, which can be used to make purchases at authorized retailers.

EBT cards can also be used to withdraw cash at ATMs, although there may be fees associated with this service.


Food stamps in the 70s played a transformative role in addressing food insecurity and improving the lives of countless Americans. Their legacy continues to shape the nation’s approach to hunger relief and poverty alleviation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What did food stamps look like in the 70s?

Food stamps in the 70s were typically rectangular in shape and made of paper. They featured a blue and white color scheme, with the words “Food Stamp” printed prominently. Each stamp had a unique serial number and a denomination value printed on it.

What was the highest denomination of food stamps in the 70s?

The highest denomination of food stamps available in the 70s was $50.

Where could food stamps be used in the 70s?

Food stamps could be used at authorized grocery stores and other food retailers. They could not be used to purchase non-food items, such as alcohol or tobacco.