Information on Dine-Out Feature of the Food Stamp Program

CED-81-72: Published: Feb 27, 1981. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 1981.

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The dine-out feature of the Department of Agriculture's Food Stamp Program allows food stamp recipients who are at least 60 years of age to use food coupons to pay for meals in authorized restaurants.

The number of States and restaurants participating in the dine-out feature has decreased. Six of the nine States that dropped the feature did so because of the low participation by eligible food stamp recipients. A major factor bearing on the participation level may be that food stamp recipients cannot afford to spend their food coupons for restaurant meals. The limited data available suggest that any major future growth in the dine-out feature is unlikely. Administrative cost data on the dine-out feature were not available; however, estimates indicate that costs are low in actual dollars but high in proportion to restaurant coupon redemptions. GAO believes that the dine-out feature's socialization goal may be better served through the Department of Health and Human Services' Congregate Nutrition Services Program. The dine-out feature needs certain improvements and clarifications to facilitate effective and efficient administration. These include: (1) more specific guidance on the types and numbers of restaurants that States should recruit to fulfill program goals; (2) a determination of whether food coupons may be used for takeout orders; and (3) a resolution of restaurants' participant identification problems.

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