Food Stamp Program:

How States Are Using Federal Waivers of the Work Requirement

RCED-00-5: Published: Oct 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Food Stamp Program, focusing on: (1) the measures used by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assess states' requests for waivers to the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents; (2) how states have used the waiver provision; and (3) whether USDA and states considered the availability of employment in adjacent areas when deciding which areas to include in a waiver.

GAO noted that: (1) USDA uses federal and state data to assess employment conditions when reviewing states' requests to waive the requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents work in order to remain eligible for food stamps; (2) consistent with welfare reform law, states must show that the areas where the individuals live have unemployment rates above 10 percent or do not have sufficient numbers of jobs to provide employment for these individuals; (3) USDA has generally granted waivers if the states' requests were supported by data from the Department of Labor showing that areas either had unemployment rates above 10 percent or were designated as labor surplus areas, meaning that the numbers of jobs there were not sufficient; (4) USDA has provided states with guidance for other measures of employment conditions and has accepted data from states showing, among other things, worsening employment-to-population ratios or meager job growth to demonstrate that areas do not have sufficient numbers of jobs; (5) as of June 1999, 38 states and the District of Columbia had USDA waivers in place, whereas 12 states had chosen not to seek them; (6) the 13 states GAO reviewed in detail differed in their waiver policies as well; (7) of the 10 states reviewed that implemented waivers, 8 had sought waivers for all eligible areas, while 2 had sought waivers for only some eligible areas; (8) California determined that in most areas that might qualify for waivers, enough options existed for food stamp recipients to meet the work requirement; (9) hence, the state sought a waiver only for two agricultural areas that had suffered economically disastrous freezes; (10) the three remaining states GAO reviewed had decided not to seek waivers; (11) officials in those states said that all able-bodied adults without dependents should meet the work requirement and that if they fail to do so, their food stamp benefits should be terminated; (12) USDA does not consider the availability of employment in adjacent areas when assessing states' waiver requests because the law does not require it to do so; (13) of the 10 states GAO reviewed that have implemented waivers, 9 did not consider employment options in adjoining areas; (14) the exception was California, where local officials decided not to seek waivers for Indian reservations with severe unemployment if jobs were available in nearby towns; and (15) California officials said that employment in adjacent areas would generally not be a viable option, mainly because of transportation difficulties.

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