Food Stamp Change Tokens

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Food stamp change tokens were issued in Louisiana during three different phases of the USDA Food Stamp Program. The first of these was an experimental phase that was begun in Rochester, New York in May 1939. This plan was eventually expanded to a peak of 1741 counties and 88 cities including New Orleans, but it is not known when the Crescent City joined the program. It also is not known if any other portions of Louisiana participated during this phase. This plan was discontinued in early 1943. It was during this phase of the program that the tokens bearing inscriptions such as “1¢ Blue” and “5¢ Orange” were issued.

When the plan was established, a two-color scheme was utilized to ensure that the subsidy was indeed used for necessary food purchases and to control the kinds of foods purchased with additional coupons, which were free. Participants would purchase a set amount of orange stamps and were then provided free of charge additional blue stamps which were to be used to buy designated surplus foods. The dollar value of the free blue stamps was half again as much as that of the orange stamps purchased. Each month, the Secretary of Agriculture would designate certain foods as surplus (“blue”) and send the list to participating merchants.

During Phase I, stamps were issued in two denominations, 25¢ and $1, and resembled postage stamps. Merchants were prohibited from making change in coin, necessitating the issuance of either credit slips or tokens for amounts of less than 25¢.

The food stamp program was revived in mid-1961. During Phase II the color scheme was abandoned. The “stamps” were actually coupons of standard currency size and issued in 50¢, $2, and $5. As before, providing change in cash (coins and/or currency) was prohibited. Many merchants simply wrote the amount due on the cash register receipt, others had paper scrip, but a few issued tokens. In at least one case (Edlar Hebert of Kaplan) tokens issued in the 1930s and 1940s were pulled out of storage and used for food stamp change purposes.

In January 1971 the USDA repealed the rule prohibiting the use of coin as change. This new policy was short-lived, and on March 1, 1973 what is referred as Phase III was instituted. It was during this phase that the bulk of the known food stamp change tokens were issued, although many merchants still used notations on the cash register tapes. This phase was abandoned December 31, 1978, and again merchants were permitted to give change in coin.