Government assistance program that began in the 1960s. Some 24 million poor and working class Americans rely on it each year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes the distribution of low-cost food and food stamps to the poor through the state and local governments. Food stamp coupons are used like currency but can only be exchanged for food items. In the past a family had to have an income below 130 percent of the poverty line to be eligible. Welfare reforms in 1996 changed that rule and approximately 3.5 million people saw their benefits cut.