Welfare Reform:

State and Local Responses to Restricting Food Stamp Benefits

RCED-98-41: Published: Dec 18, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 20, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the impact of welfare reform on the Food Stamp Program, focusing on: (1) the actions, if any, that states have taken to assist those individuals who lose eligibility for the Food Stamp Program; and (2) related actions, if any, taken by other organizations in selected localities--local governments and nonprofit organizations--to assist those individuals who lose their eligibility for the Food Stamp Program.

GAO noted that: (1) most states are taking a variety of measures to address the changes in the Food Stamp Program as a result of welfare reform; (2) for able-bodied adults without dependents, many states are providing employment and training assistance; (3) this assistance, although primarily intended to move these individuals toward self-sufficiency, may still allow them to qualify for food stamp benefits if they meet both income and work requirements; (4) most states have obtained the authority from the Department of Agriculture, if they choose to exercise it, to continue providing food stamp benefits for individuals in areas with high unemployment or in areas with insufficient jobs; (5) 20 states are providing or plan to provide legal immigrants with information on how to become U.S. citizens; (6) because it takes over 1 year on average to process citizenship applications, many legal immigrants lost their food stamp benefits as of August 22, 1997; (7) the Food and Nutrition Service estimated that 935,000 legal immigrants had lost their federal food stamp benefits; (8) some states have existing programs that provide food assistance for the needy--such as food pantries--that able-bodied adults without dependents and legal immigrants who have lost their food stamps already had access to; (9) some states have developed new programs to specifically meet the needs of individuals who lose their food stamps; (10) 10 states--including 4 states estimated to have about 70 percent of the legal immigrants who receive food stamps in the U.S.--are purchasing or planning to purchase federal food stamps with their own funds--primarily for legal immigrant children and the elderly; (11) in December 1997, the states involved indicated that about 241,000 of these individuals are now receiving food stamp benefits funded by the states; (12) the extent to which any of these actions will meet the food assistance needs of those affected remains unknown; (13) in the five localities GAO visited, government officials are implementing their state's efforts to address changes in the Food Stamp Program and, in some cases, are working with local nonprofit organizations to plan for an expected increase in the need for food assistance; (14) most of the nonprofit organizations GAO visited said that it is too early to assess the impact of welfare reform on their food assistance programs; and (15) however, the organizations fear that their limited resources may be insufficient to meet the needs of the individuals who have lost their food stamps, which included the basic foods that the program provided.

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