Insights Gained in Workfare Demonstration Projects

CED-81-117: Published: Jul 31, 1981. Publicly Released: Aug 12, 1981.

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The Food Stamp Act of 1977 requires that the workfare concept, in which food stamp recipients will be required to work on public service jobs for the value of their food stamp benefits, be tested in 14 pilot projects. GAO reviewed the first year's operation of the Food Stamp Workfare Demonstration, focusing on the operating results of seven demonstration sites, problems in measuring workfare benefits and costs, and the need for legislative and administrative changes that would help provide a more effective and efficient workfare operation.

GAO found that the maximum benefits available to the program were not realized because of shortcomings in federal and local project design and administration. GAO suggested changes to increase household participation in workfare and help achieve workfare's basic objectives of: (1) deterring program participation by those who could work, but choose not to; (2) securing some repayment to taxpayers by those who are needy and receive assistance; and (3) introducing individuals to the work environment. Twenty-five percent of the program participants were in four categories which GAO did not believe merited automatic exemption from workfare. These categories were the participants in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Work Incentive Program, recipients of unemployment insurance benefits, students, and members of households whose earned incomes were equal to or greater than their monthly food stamp benefits. As most households' workfare obligations were less than 5 days a month, it seemed unlikely that workfare obligations would be a problem to these recipients. GAO found that a 30-day job search period given to new referrals to the program allows some participants to receive food stamp benefits for 2 months before being assigned to a workfare job. It found that workfare sanctions are not effective deterrents to workfare noncompliance and need to be strengthened. Also, the cost effectiveness of workfare was not determinable, and there was inadequate reporting to Congress on improvements needed in the program design and administrative procedures.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: GAO has no information on the actions taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should modify workfare program regulations and administrative procedures to require that eligible participants be interviewed and assigned to public service jobs as soon as possible with approved exceptions only where large jurisdictions would encounter massive administrative burdens without a phase-in approach; require participating jurisdictions to randomly verify participants' reasons for not appearing for an interview or job assignment; require that participants not having a good reason for not completing their workfare obligation be immediately sanctioned; establish work standards for workfare assignments and impose sanctions for clearly substandard performance; and require that project design not restrict work benefits and provide for continuity of project operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: GAO has no information on the actions taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should establish and implement an effective system for gathering information on all real benefits being achieved from the workfare demonstration, whether measurable in terms of dollars or not, to give a more accurate account of workfare's actual and potential benefits. Such benefits should include the value of work lost because sites did not immediately identify and assign eligible able-bodied persons to work when the demonstration began, as well as the impact of the demonstration on Food Stamp Program participation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: GAO has no information on the actions taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should obtain meaningful cost data to show what costs would be incurred in a regular, ongoing workfare program, as distinguished from a demonstration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: GAO has no information on the actions taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor should keep Congress fully informed about the problems and results of the workfare demonstration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: GAO has no information on the actions taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor should keep Congress fully informed about the problems and results of the workfare demonstration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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