Food Stamp Program:

Administrative Hindrances to Participation

RCED-89-4: Published: Oct 21, 1988. Publicly Released: Oct 28, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether federal regulations and certain state and local practices and procedures discourage or prevent eligible persons from participating in the Food and Nutrition Service's (FNS) Food Stamp Program.

GAO found that some local offices: (1) had limited office hours and restrictive interviewing schedules; (2) required households to complete screening forms before providing them food stamp applications and interviews; (3) did not encourage applicants to file partial applications to establish filing dates; (4) did not consider applicants for expedited benefits or did not provide expedited benefits on time; (5) denied applications prematurely; and (6) did not help applicants obtain the documents they needed to complete their applications. GAO also found that some states: (1) inappropriately terminated households' food stamp benefits when they terminated their public assistance benefits; (2) transferred clients from one project area to another, causing benefit interruptions; and (3) terminated food stamp benefits on the basis of unverified allegations of changes in household circumstances. In addition, GAO found that households with the same income could receive more food stamps in some states than others because FNS regulations permit two methods for states to calculate a household's monthly income.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 6, 1991, FNS issued an information package entitled "Examples of Successful Actions Taken by State Agencies To Address Barriers to Food Stamp Participation" to its regional offices for dissemination to state agencies. The materials will assist states in identifying and overcoming participation obstacles.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to identify administrative hindrances to food stamp participation in its annual operations reviews of each state, focusing on hindrances identified in this report, and assist states in overcoming these hindrances by sharing this information with all states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although FNS agrees using different methods causes some inequities, it stated that changing the current policy could result in administrative burdens and unclear impact. As a result, FNS has decided not to adopt a uniform policy.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to determine the extent to which some households are treated inequitably by the different methods used to calculate monthly income, and determine whether it would be beneficial to adopt a uniform policy for calculating monthly income.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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