Food Stamp Employment and Training Program:

Better Data Needed to Understand Who Is Served and What the Program Achieves

GAO-03-388: Published: Mar 12, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2003.

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Since the late 1990s, many funding changes have been made to the Food Stamp E&T Program. In 1997, legislation required states to spend 80 percent of their funds on participants who lose their food stamp benefits if they do not meet work requirements within a limited time frame. The legislation also increased funds by $131 million to help states serve these participants. But spending rates for the program declined until, in 2001, states spent only about 30 percent of the federal allocation. In 2002, the Congress reduced federal funds to $110 million a year. While it is too soon to know the impact of these changes, GAO was asked to determine whom the program serves, what services are provided, and what is known about program outcomes and effectiveness.

Food Stamp Employment and Training (E&T) participants are a small proportion of the food stamp population and do not usually receive cash assistance from other programs. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not collect nationwide data on the number and characteristics of Food Stamp E&T participants, program officials in the 15 states GAO contacted described the population as generally hard to employ because they have little education and a limited work history. States may provide program participants with a range of employment and training activities that qualify them for food stamp benefits. USDA data show that, in fiscal year 2001, job search accounted for about half of all participant activities. Work experience--whereby participants receive food stamp benefits in exchange for work--accounted for about 25 percent. Food Stamp E&T services are delivered through a variety of local entities, such as welfare offices or one-stop centers--sites designed to streamline the services of many federal employment and training programs. While all but 1 of the 15 states delivered at least some of their Food Stamp E&T services at the one-stops, Food Stamp E&T participants do not usually engage in intensive services provided by other programs at the one-stops. Program officials from most of the 15 states noted that Food Stamp E&T participants generally lack basic skills that allow them to use other program services successfully. No nationwide data exist on whether the Food Stamp E&T Program helps participants get a job. While some outcome data exist at the state level, it is not clear the outcomes were the result of program participation. USDA has no plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the program nor have the Departments of Labor or Health and Human Services included Food Stamp E&T participants in their studies of the hardest-to-employ.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2003, after GAO's report was issued, FNS simplified the work registration status variable in its 2003 Quality Control system to capture which food stamp recipients participate in its Employment and Training program. In doing so, FNS clarified its instructions for reporting data so that states could identify which food stamp recipients are in the Food Stamp E&T program. FNS provided a table that shows the results from the new coding for food stamp participating non-elderly adults (i.e., those participants that might be required to work or participate in the Food Stamp E&T program). The table includes information on gender and age.

    Recommendation: To help USDA better understand who the Food Stamp E&T Program is serving, what the program is achieving, and whether the program is effective, USDA should use its quality control survey to collect nationwide estimates on the number of food stamp recipients participating in the Food Stamp E&T Program and their characteristics, such as age and gender. To do so, USDA should clarify its instructions for reporting the data so that states clearly identify which food stamp recipients are in the Food Stamp E&T Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) believes that the costs and effort required to impose an outcome measurement system on states do not justify any potential benefits that may accrue. Consequently, FNS is not planning to take action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help USDA better understand who the Food Stamp E&T Program is serving, what the program is achieving, and whether the program is effective, USDA should establish uniform outcome measures for the Food Stamp E&T Program and require states to collect and report them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to FNS, the agency has considered the feasibility of implementing the recommended study agenda in conjunction with the Departments of Labor (DOL) or Health and Human Services. While discussions with DOL have not resulted in an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Food Stamp E&T Program, FNS is working with DOL and the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) to develop a Work Advancement and Support Demonstration (WASC). MDRC, a non-profit, non-partisan research firm, is developing WASC to establish one-stops in five to eight locations across the country. FNS has entered into an Inter-Agency Agreement with DOL to support this work, with the particular goal of facilitating access to the Food Stamp Program among the working poor and encouraging participation in work advancement and retention activities. The demonstration sites will provide welfare and workforce assistance while focusing on job retention and advancement services. The demonstration specifically aims to develop and rigorously evaluate job retention and advancement services when these are packaged with full receipt of work support programs (including Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, child care subsidies, and health insurance).

    Recommendation: To help USDA better understand who the Food Stamp E&T Program is serving, what the program is achieving, and whether the program is effective, USDA should work with the Department of Labor and/or the Department of Health and Human Services on a research agenda that will allow for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Food Stamp E&T Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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