Preliminary Information on Food Stamp Workfare Pilot Projects

CED-80-129: Published: Sep 30, 1980. Publicly Released: Oct 2, 1980.

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The Food Stamp Act of 1977 requires the Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor to jointly conduct workfare pilot projects. The food stamp workfare concept involves the performance of work in return for food stamp benefits. Under the Act, demonstration projects were to be conducted at 14 sites, 1 urban and 1 rural site in each of the 7 administrative regions of the Food and Nutrition Service. Congress did not provide Federal cost-sharing funds for any local or State administrative costs associated with the projects. In response to a Congressman's request, GAO monitored and evaluated the projects to (1) provide information on how the seven pilot projects currently in operation were selected, (2) examine plans for selecting sites for the workfare extension, and (3) provide some preliminary information on the contract between the Department of Labor and the firm it hired to obtain information needed to assess the pilot projects and report on their results.

The number of sites selected and the rural/urban mix fell short of congressional expectations for the demonstration program. About 96 of the locations that had expressed interest in the workfare project were contacted to determine why they did not participate. Among the reasons for lack of participation were a lack of Federal funds, too much additional work involved, no support from local government units, nonpolitical jurisdiction, staff turnover, application not received on time, and another site selected in the same region. The Food and Nutrition Service could have improved the quality of the effort it made in recruiting sites in the following areas: focus of contacts, followup on letters to governors and mayors, recordkeeping, followup on inquiries, and use of regional office staff. The project was extended for 1 year to expand the size and scope of the existing demonstration and to give the workfare concept a better test. Federal cost-sharing funds for 50 percent of the demonstration project operating expenses are available to encourage more jurisdictions to participate. GAO believes that the Service needs to assess its options in the event its current recruiting does not attract the number and kinds of jurisdictions that would provide a good test of the workfare concept, and then consult with the appropriate congressional interests to discuss how best to proceed. It is too early to provide an overall assessment of the contract between Labor and the firm evaluating the project. However, many aspects of the evaluation activities may warrant additional attention.

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