Food Stamp Program:
Information on the Costs of Special Diets
RCED-00-144R, May 8, 2000
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the costs of food stamp recipients' special diets, focusing on the: (1) number of food stamp recipients whose special dietary costs exceed the maximum food stamp benefit; and (2) costs of recipients' special diets compared with the maximum food stamp benefit.
GAO noted that: (1) the federal government does not have the information to determine the number of food stamp recipients whose special diets exceed the maximum food stamp benefit; (2) while two federal government surveys provide some information about the number of food stamp recipients with special diets, no information is collected about the costs of these diets or the degree to which the special dietary needs of food stamp recipients are unmet due to their limited financial resources; (3) the costs of recipients' special diets can vary, according to Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials; (4) they explained that the costs of some of these diets can fall within the maximum food stamp benefit, or they can exceed it; (5) but they do not know how frequently special dietary costs exceed the maximum or to what extent the maximum is exceeded; (6) USDA officials were, however, able to identify situations in which the maximum benefits could fail to meet special dietary needs; (7) for example, they cited diets that require cans of oral nutritional supplements, which can each cost about half of the maximum daily benefit of $3.51; (8) GAO's comparison of the weekly costs of one special diet for hypertension showed that its costs were 41 percent more than the food stamp benefit; and (9) hypertension was the primary reason that food stamp recipients reported changing their diets in a prior 12-month period.