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David Coolidge

What Are the Facts on the Food Stamp Plan?

While It Is in Many Respects Favorable to the Unemployed, It Has Its Dangers

(July 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 13, 8 July 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Food Stamp Plan initiated about one year ago by the Roosevelt Administration through the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation, is now in use in over 100 cities.

The latest is Brooklyn, N.Y., where the plan will begin sometime near September. Newark, N.J. started the plan most recently in the latter part of June.

The operation of the plan in some respects is simple but in other respects somewhat complicated. People on relief, and in certain cities WPA workers and old age pensioners, are given fifty cents in blue stamps for each dollar’s worth of orange stamps they buy. The blue stamps can be used only to buy what the Department of Agriculture calls “surplus commodities.” These are the food-stuffs that the farmers can not sell.

Heretofore the government bought this food and distributed it to the unemployed as a supplement to their relief money. The government will continue buying this “surplus” food, these farm products of which there “is more than the market will absorb.” The government advertises that this distribution is made possible at a “low price due to abundant crops.” Now however, the unemployed will be given blue stamps with which to purchase such of these products as they need or want. This will eliminate the necessity of an unemployed family having to increase the small food supply with a bag of two dozen surplus grape fruits or a single man finding himself in possess of two pounds of butter.

It is also a fact that the unemployed will be able to get a little more food. It is estimated by experts in such matters that meal costing five cents can be expanded to the equivalent of one costing 7½ cents. Since this does not take into account the present direct distribution of food surpluses, the actual increase is less then 50%.

Great emphasis is placed on the provision that the Plan is voluntary. You don’t have to participate. However, if you don’t participate you will not get the free blue stamps. This means that those who do not accept the plan will be confined to the five cent meal while those who accept will have an opportunity to expand a five cent meal into a 7½ cent meal. The “clients” will therefore, and correctly, participate, in the plan.

A Few Things to Watch

There are a few things that the unemployed will have to keep an eye on in connection with the Food. Stamp Plan:

  1. Stamps are issued in denominations of twenty-five cents. There may be a tendency by little store keepers to raise the price qf an article from say, 23 cents to a quarter. That is, the little fellows whose business comes largely from the unemployed, may connive to raise prices a few cents all along the line.

  2. The unemployed will have to he on the alert to see to it that storekeepers do not palm off inferior and stale produce on them.

  3. Under the Stamp Plan there is an increase in red tape:
    a) the unemployed must carry identification cards to the store each time,
    b) the whole stamp book must be taken to the store – the customer is not permitted to tear out stamps.

  4. Special diets and emergency orders will be more difficult to get.

The Plan as arranged for Brooklyn differs from other cities in at least one important respect. The city will purchase the stamps and there will be no Stamp Issuing Office. Instead the City will ask the relief family whether or not they would like for the City to deduct $6.00 each month from the cash relief allowance. Those who accept would then receive $6.00 in orange stamps and $3.00 in blue stamps. The “client” may refuse, of course, to permit the City to make the deduction from his relief check but if he does he will not get the $3.00 in blue stamps. Refusal will not injure his relief standing. He will only be confined to the five cent meal and will not get the extra 2½ cents worth of pork, beans, lard, cabbage etc. Mayor La Guardia says that by eliminating the Stamp Issuing Offices administrative costs will be reduced about 80%.

The main point for the unemployed to keep in mind is the reason for the existence of the surplus commodity distribution and its offspring the Food Stamp Plan. This “free” distribution of food was originally conceived to aid the farmers. Scientific agriculture on the farm combined with vast unemployment and low wages for workers in town and city produce what the government calls a “farm surplus.” The farmers can’t sell their produce. This means they will have no money. No money to pay wages which means increase of unemployment among farm workers. Also and more important there will be no money to give th’e Metropolitan Insurance Co. for interest on the mortgage held against the farm.

Secondly, the Plan is intended as a help to local grocers. Helping the local grocers means helping all other business, including the banks. When the government distributed the “surplus” food direct, the little grocer and butcher did not participate.

A Few Dangers

It is possible for any number of things to happen in connection with this Food Stamp Plan. The unemployed and their organization will have to be always on guard. The Plan can be turned into a scheme for cutting relief or for eliminating cash relief through the introduction of the “voucher system.” Furthermore, should conditions arise making it possible for the “market” to “absorb” more or all of the “surplus” produce the unemployed might find themselves out on a limb.

If business improves and prices rise the farmers will sell in the open market. This will mean that the main articles of food, and the most nourishing will no longer be on the Food Stamp list. Instead of 17 foods to choose from, including butter, eggs and pork, the unemployed might find themselves regularly in possession of large quantities of prunes, grapefruit and onions.

Lastly, under war conditions, whether or not the plan is in operation, almost anything can happen. Undoubtedly there will be an attempt to reduce the living standards of all the workers. The tendency will be to soak the unemployed worst of all. The bosses will feel that there is no more need to feed an unemployed worker than an unemployed mule. An unemployed worker can go into the army or starve.

Be On Alert!

All this is true and while accepting the Food Stamp Plan because it means an increase in Food allotment, the unemployed must remain alert and be prepared for action whenever they see any shifts in the Plan that are against their interests. The answer to any potential evils in the Plan, is strong and aggressive organizations of the unemployed, led by intelligent and militant fighters. It is especially important now, in this period of war fever and patriotic fervor that workers organizations tolerate only this kind of leadership.

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