Food Stamp Program:

Reporting of Application Activities Could Be Improved

RCED-88-156: Published: Jul 14, 1988. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the reliability of the Food and Nutrition Service's (FNS) statistics on households applying for, approved for, and denied food stamp benefits, focusing on: (1) FNS instructions and requirements regarding states' reports on application, approval, and denial information; (2) the definitions and procedures states used to aggregate, record, and report application information; (3) the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and states' oversight of recordkeeping and reporting practices; and (4) how states and USDA used application information.

GAO found that: (1) states used different definitions of what constituted an application in its reports to FNS, since FNS instructions through 1986 failed to specifically define reporting procedures; (2) a 1987 FNS revision of its report format helped it to obtain additional details but did not solve the problem of inconsistent state application definitions; (3) additional instructions FNS issued in 1988 helped to clarify reporting requirements, but did not fully address all variations among states; (4) within their automated or manual recordkeeping systems, states generally had procedures to ensure information accuracy according to their own definitions; (5) states primarily used the information to monitor local office food stamp application work loads and ensure prompt application processing; (6) FNS did not assess reported information for accuracy or use it for budgeting and program planning, although it did informally use some data in policy development; (7) FNS did not automate states' reported data until 1987; and (8) FNS lacked plans for monitoring and using reported information to assess states' performance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS issued guidance in April and August 1988 to each regional office regarding data being reported by the states to ensure its clarity.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, as part of its oversight, to provide clear and understandable definitions for reporting food stamp application information and guidance, to ensure that states report the information according to FNS requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS has provided guidance to regional offices and will continue to provide additional guidance in the future to monitor and improve the states' reporting performance.

    Recommendation: To ensure that states are accurately reporting the food stamp application information, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to develop specific plans and written procedures for: (1) monitoring the states' application information to ensure that it is reported according to FNS requirements; and (2) using the reported information to evaluate state performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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