Federal Domestic Food Assistance Programs:

A Time for Assessment and Change

CED-78-113: Published: Jun 13, 1978. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 1978.

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Thirteen major federal domestic programs, costing several billion dollars annually, provide food or food-related assistance to needy Americans. The programs are administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA); the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW); and the Community Services Administration (CSA).

These programs have helped many people obtain more adequate diets. However, the large and accelerating costs of the programs, their piecemeal authorization and administration, and proposals for comprehensive welfare reform have created a need and opportunity to examine the programs' interrelationships and effectiveness. Multiple participation in the programs, which is sanctioned in legislation, has created a situation in which benefits often exceed amounts needed for thrifty food plan diets. Food stamp allotments ranged from 82 percent to 164 percent of the cost of such diets. Savings could be realized by making adjustments for different ages and sexes of household members. The extent of food benefit gaps and overlaps cannot be measured precisely because of inadequate data collection. Administrative problems result from varying eligibility criteria and procedures, lack of a uniform definition of needy, and inadequate program coordination. There is also a lack of adequate data to determine the proper level of benefits, interrelationships of the programs, and the nutritional effectiveness of the programs.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress debated, but did not adopt, this recommendation. GAO is doubtful that Congress will enact this recommendation in the near future.

    Matter: Congress, on the basis of results of the executive branch's feasibility study, should require a single state/local agency to be responsible for the application, certification, verification, referral, and monitoring aspects of designated federal food programs to help ensure, along with the authorization and implementation of consistent eligibility criteria and procedures, a more equitable and efficient delivery of federal food assistance to needy Americans.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During the 99th Congress, three bills were introduced to implement this, or a closely related, recommendation. Although the bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, they have not been reported out of the Committee. Congress debated this issue, but no legislation was enacted. GAO is doubtful that Congress will enact this recommendation in the near future.

    Matter: Congress, on the basis of results of the executive branch's feasibility study, should eliminate the receipt of duplicative benefits, particularly between the Food Stamp and School Lunch Programs, by allowing consideration of benefits received from one federal food assistance program when determining eligibility and benefit levels for other federal food assistance programs.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should consolidate major federal food assistance programs by bringing under one program federal cash and commodity assistance currently provided by the School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and evaluate the need for federal reimbursement of free milk served under the Special Milk Program in elementary schools and child care institutions already participating in the school lunch, school breakfast, and/or child care food programs.

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During the 99th Congress, three bills were introduced to implement this, or a closely related, recommendation. The bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, but have not been reported out of that Committee. Congress debated this issue, but no legislation was enacted. GAO is doubtful that Congress will enact this recommendation in the near future.

    Matter: Congress should authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to implement individualized food stamp allotments nationwide if USDA demonstration projects show the administrative feasibility of such allotments.

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This issue was debated, but no legislation was enacted. GAO is doubtful that Congress will enact this recommendation in the near future.

    Matter: Congress should approve an explicit national policy on the appropriate levels of food assistance to be provided to needy Americans by the federal government.

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress discussed but did not adopt any definition of the term needy. GAO is doubtful that Congress will enact this recommendation in the near future.

    Matter: Congress should adopt a uniform definition of the word needy and establish consistent criteria for determining who is eligible for federal food assistance programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA examined this recommendation, especially in light of a similar recommendation made by PPSSCC, and included in several bills introduced in the 99th Congress. However, it does not plan to take any action on this recommendation in the forseeable future.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should study the administrative feasibility of: (1) considering food benefits from child-feeding programs; (2) using food stamps to purchase free or reduced-price meals under the child-feeding programs; (3) adjusting thrifty food plan costs to reflect potential participation in the child-feeding programs; and (4) turning over the application, certification, verification, referral, and monitoring aspects of the child-feeding programs and WIC to local welfare offices, which now also handle food stamp certification, verification, and monitoring. The results of this study should be reported to Congress together with a recommendation for such authorizing legislation as may be necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although such a survey has not been implemented, an interagency task force was established to study this and related issues. Final administrative action on this recommendation is not expected in the near future and, although GAO will continue to monitor the work of the task force, it is dropping the formal follow-up to this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should propose consistent income and asset eligibility requirements and procedures for the appropriate federal food assistance programs and study the effects of such requirements and procedures on program participation, costs, and work incentives. The results of this study should be reported to Congress along with a recommendation for such authorizing legislation as may be necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although such a survey has not been implemented, an interagency task force was established to study this and related issues. Final administrative action on this recommendation is not expected in the near future and, although GAO will continue to monitor the work of the task force, it is dropping the formal follow-up to this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should propose consistent income and asset eligibility requirements and procedures for the appropriate federal food assistance programs and study the effects of such requirements and procedures on program participation, costs, and work incentives. The results of this study should be reported to Congress along with a recommendation for such authorizing legislation as may be necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although such a survey has not been implemented, an interagency task force was established to study this and related issues. Final administrative action on this recommendation is not expected in the near future and, although GAO will continue to monitor the work of the task force, it is dropping the formal follow-up to this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should initiate on a priority basis periodic national surveys of low-income households to determine the types and amounts of cash and in-kind food benefits received and the precise extent of current overlaps and gaps, both in terms of program costs and nutrient intake, among the major federal programs involving food assistance, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although such a survey has not been implemented, an interagency task force was established to study this and related issues. Final administrative action on this recommendation is not expected in the near future and, although GAO will continue to monitor the work of the task force, it is dropping the formal follow-up to this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should initiate on a priority basis periodic national surveys of low-income households to determine the types and amounts of cash and in-kind food benefits received and the precise extent of current overlaps and gaps, both in terms of program costs and nutrient intake, among the major federal programs involving food assistance, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although such a survey has not been implemented, an interagency task force was established to study this and related issues. Final administrative action on this recommendation is not expected in the near future and, although GAO will continue to monitor the work of the task force, it is dropping the formal follow-up to this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should develop and implement ways to measure, in a more coordinated, timely manner, the nutritional status of the general U.S. population, especially the participants and nonparticipants in the major federal food assistance programs, including such traditionally high risk groups as the poor, the elderly, young children, and women of childbearing age, and use this data to estimate the nutritional effectiveness of the federal food assistance programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although such a survey has not been implemented, an interagency task force was established to study this and related issues. Final administrative action on this recommendation is not expected in the near future and, although GAO will continue to monitor the work of the task force, it is dropping the formal follow-up on this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should develop and implement ways to measure, in a more coordinated, timely manner, the nutritional status of the general U.S. population, especially the participants and nonparticipants in the major federal food assistance programs, including such traditionally high risk groups as the poor, the elderly, young children, and women of childbearing age, and use this data to estimate the nutritional effectiveness of the federal food assistance programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA examined this recommendation, especially in light of a similar recommendation made by PPSSCC, and included in several bills introduced during the 99th Congress. However, it does not plan to take any action on this recommendation in the forseeable future.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should study the administrative feasibility of: (1) considering food benefits from child-feeding programs; (2) using food stamps to purchase free or reduced-price meals under the child-feeding programs; (3) adjusting thrifty food plan costs to reflect potential participation in the child-feeding programs; and (4) turning over the application, certification, verification, referral, and monitoring aspects of the child-feeding programs and WIC to local welfare offices, which now also handle food stamp certification, verification, and monitoring. The results of this study should be reported to Congress together with a recommendation for such authorizing legislation as may be necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA initiated Operation Awareness to carry out this recommendation, but Operation Awareness encourages the exchange of information only for Food Stamp Program purposes and does not involve other federal agencies.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should study ways for encouraging the exchange of information among local food program administrators to assist them in identifying potential or ineligible recipients. Legislative changes that might be needed to implement the procedures, which the study finds to be the most effective, should be recommended to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA initiated Operation Awareness to carry out this recommendation, but Operation Awareness encourages the exchange of information only for Food Stamp Program purposes and does not involve other federal agencies.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should study ways for encouraging the exchange of information among local food program administrators to assist them in identifying potential or ineligible recipients. Legislative changes that might be needed to implement the procedures, which the study finds to be the most effective, should be recommended to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  11. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: With P.L. 97-35, August 13, 1981, Congress prohibited the use of federal funds for outreach activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should provide mechanisms to ensure that persons in need of, or receiving, specific benefits from such programs as School Lunch, WIC, title VII, AFDC, or SSI are aware of and referred to other food programs that they are eligible for.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  12. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: With P.L. 97-35, August 13, 1981, Congress prohibited the use of federal funds for outreach activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should provide mechanisms to ensure that persons in need of, or receiving, specific benefits from such programs as School Lunch, WIC, title VII, AFDC, or SSI are aware of and referred to other food programs that they are eligible for.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  13. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: WIC vouchers are now for specific items; they are distributed to meet individual needs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should explore alternatives to the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food delivery systems and, if appropriate, propose legislation to implement the best alternative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WIC vouchers are now for specific items; they are distributed to meet individual needs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should explore alternatives to the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food delivery systems and, if appropriate, propose legislation to implement the best alternative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  15. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Because USDA does not plan to make such a study, there is no need for Department of Health and Human Services involvement in it.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should establish demonstration projects in one or more localities to evaluate the increased administrative cost and error, if any, that would result from an individualized system of food stamp allotments; that is, allotment levels based on a recipient household's receiving the exact number of free food stamps needed to meet the difference between the cost of the thrifty food plan, as calculated for the number, sex, and ages of the members of that particular household, and 30 percent of the household's net monthly income for food stamp purposes. The demonstration project results should be reported to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  16. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA stated that it doubted if Congress would enact uniform allotments. Consequently, it did not plan to test the idea as GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Secretary, HEW, and the Director, CSA, should establish demonstration projects in one or more localities to evaluate the increased administrative cost and error, if any, that would result from an individualized system of food stamp allotments; that is, allotment levels based on a recipient household's receiving the exact number of free food stamps needed to meet the difference between the cost of the thrifty food plan, as calculated for the number, sex, and ages of the members of that particular household, and 30 percent of the household's net monthly income for food stamp purposes. The demonstration project results should be reported to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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