Food Stamp Workfare:

Cost Benefit Results Not Conclusive; Administrative Problems Continue

CED-82-44: Published: Feb 19, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 19, 1982.

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GAO reviewed the continuing operations and evaluation of the Food Stamp Workfare Demonstration Project which was designed to test the feasibility of food stamp recipients working in return for their benefits. GAO wanted to find out if participating jurisdictions had developed enough workfare jobs to enable them to assign all eligible individuals to work and whether workfare officials were experiencing any difficulties, such as transportation problems, in getting participants to work at the job sites. In addition, GAO tried to identify any other emerging problems or program improvements as well as efforts to evaluate the demonstration through a contract with a consulting firm. The Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 authorized the implementation of workfare as a permanent feature of the Food Stamp Program and eliminated several of the exemptions for participation, eliminated the mandatory job-search period, and strengthened the penalty for not fulfilling workfare obligations.

The GAO review showed numerous opportunities to enhance efficiency and workfare program benefits. GAO cannot be certain how many jurisdictions will establish workfare programs solely for food stamp recipients. However, problems which GAO identified can serve as a caution to Agriculture and workfare project officials to avoid certain pitfalls in designing workfare programs. The GAO study confirmed that expanded workfare eligibility criteria, shorter job-search periods, stronger penalties for noncompliance, and better local administration would increase participation in the food stamp workfare program and provide additional program benefits. Improved administration would result in more able-bodied persons working and would reduce program costs by denying some benefits to those who do not complete workfare job obligations. However, delays in interviewing and assigning eligible participants to workfare jobs, coupled with slowness in penalizing individuals for not completing workfare obligations, continued to result in a loss of benefits during the extended demonstration period. Many clients were interviewed twice. GAO found that it was possible to have a local employment service office assume certain workfare functions, including the required interview for most new benefit recipients. Enough jobs have been developed for workfare participants at the sites which GAO visited, but startup problems such as language and transportation difficulties prevented some job assignments.

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