Food Assistance:

USDA's Multiprogram Approach

RCED-94-33: Published: Nov 24, 1993. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Agriculture's food assistance programs, focusing on: (1) the strengths and weaknesses of the current multiprogram approach; and (2) alternative approaches for delivering food assistance.

GAO found that: (1) in fiscal year 1992, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and state agencies jointly operated 14 programs that provided food assistance at a federal cost of $33 billion; (2) the 14 programs, which vary considerably in objective and delivery approach, have evolved over a 46-year period without the benefit of a comprehensive federal food assistance policy; (3) FNS needs to refine its federal food assistance policy statement and establish specific goals, map out a unified approach for achieving goals, and describe how individual programs relate to the overall effort; (4) strengths of the current multiprogram approach include the flexible mix of benefit packages and distribution methods, the ability to reach more eligible recipients through overlapping programs, and the protection of individual food program funding from across-the-board budget reductions; (5) the multiprogram approach's weaknesses include multiple and difficult application processes, duplicate management functions that increase administrative costs, and difficulty in assessing the comprehensive impact of efforts; (6) selective program consolidation, streamlining, or elimination could address some of the multiprogram approach weaknesses; and (7) the current administration is reviewing food assistance programs in its evaluation and reform of the welfare system and will consider policy options for restructuring food assistance programs.

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