Food Assistance Programs

RCED-95-115R: Published: Feb 28, 1995. Publicly Released: Mar 8, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) domestic food and nutrition assistance programs, focusing on those programs that target benefits to women, children, infants, the elderly, and the needy. GAO noted that: (1) USDA food assistance programs constitute about 60 percent of the USDA budget and the Food Stamp Program accounts for more than one-half of those benefits; (2) 6 of the 14 USDA food programs target the groups reviewed; (3) participants' characteristics and the nature and level of benefits vary widely across the programs; (4) most of the programs have income eligibility criteria and some programs have additional criteria that individuals must meet to receive benefits; (5) benefit overlap is built into most of the programs, but it is not known how many persons participate in more than one program; (6) state and local governments and nonprofit organizations play a large role in distributing program benefits; (7) some USDA programs are similar to other agencies' assistance programs; (8) ineffective targeting of low-income people, burdensome administration, subsidizing providers rather than families, rising costs, duplication of services, inequitable funding allocations, and unfunded mandates affect the distribution of food benefits; and (9) alternatives to reduce costs and streamline program operations include improving low-income targeting, consolidating multiple programs, reducing some programs' funding levels, and eliminating some ineffective programs.

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