Food Stamp Program:

Alternative Definitions of a Household for Food Stamp Eligibility

RCED-90-137: Published: Aug 23, 1990. Publicly Released: Aug 31, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Food Stamp Program, focusing on: (1) how the household definition evolved into its current form; (2) whether the current household definition contributes to homelessness; and (3) alternative household definitions for food stamp eligibility.

GAO found that: (1) in 1971, a food stamp household was defined based on household members sharing their resources and living together; (2) in 1977, the food stamp household was changed to focus on individuals who purchased food and prepared meals together; (3) to help combat homelessness, the definition was broadened to permit adults who have minor children and live with their parents to form separate households if they purchase food and prepare meals separately; (4) the current definition of a food stamp household contains a disincentive which could discourage people from sharing housing, thereby contributing to homelessness; (5) six alternatives would group people on the basis of familial relationships and five would group people based on the economic relationships that might exist among people living together; (6) although all of the alternatives would simplify the household definition, some would complicate the eligibility determination process; (7) most of the alternatives that are simpler and do not complicate program administration would expand eligibility and increase benefit payments; and (8) two alternatives would simplify the definition and program administration and marginally increase program participation, while slightly increasing benefit costs.

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