Food Stamp Program:

A Demographic Analysis of Participation and Nonparticipation

PEMD-90-8: Published: Jan 19, 1990. Publicly Released: Feb 21, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the reasons why some households that met the eligibility criteria for the Food Stamp Program did not receive benefits, focusing on the: (1) demographic characteristics associated with Food Stamp participation; and (2) reasons that eligible households gave for their nonparticipation.

GAO found that: (1) 56.2 percent of eligible households did not participate in the Food Stamp Program; (2) high household participation rates in the program were closely associated with participation in other welfare programs, while household types with low participation rates included those receiving Social Security benefits, those headed by elderly persons, and those headed by single men; (3) the reasons given for nonparticipation included a lack of desire for benefits, lack of program information, and program or access problems; (4) many of the nonparticipation reasons were related to particular demographic, socioeconomic, or other household characteristics; (5) the Hunger Prevention Act directed the use of simplified application forms and provided federal support for state outreach or education efforts; and (6) effective outreach programs were more likely to influence households headed by single individuals.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS has: (1) implemented an annual planning process to encourage outreach; (2) developed further guidance; and (3) conducted studies and demonstrations.

    Recommendation: In view of the fact that outreach efforts may be resumed under the Hunger Prevention Act, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), to encourage the states to target outreach to those groups that would most benefit from it and to tailor the type of outreach to the needs and characteristics of those specific groups. Effective targeting and tailoring of outreach efforts should maximize the returns on investments in outreach by the states and the federal government.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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