Means-Tested Programs:

An Overview, Problems, and Issues

T-HEHS-95-76: Published: Feb 7, 1995. Publicly Released: Feb 7, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the means-tested programs that make up the current welfare system. GAO noted that: (1) in fiscal year (FY) 1992, the federal government provided more than $48 billion for income support programs, $78.5 billion to assist low-income families with medical care, $34 billion for food aid to low-income populations, $22.2 billion for low-income housing assistance, nearly $21 billion for programs that promote self-sufficiency through education and training, and two-thirds of the $8.6 billion in social service assistance; (2) federal spending for means-tested programs totalled $208 billion in FY 1992; (3) most program beneficiaries receive assistance from more than one program; (4) means-tested programs are costly and difficult to administer because numerous federal, state, and local departments and agencies are charged with overseeing means-tested programs; (5) while the growth in welfare programs has produced many programs that overlap each other, these programs are often too narrowly focused and produce gaps in services; (6) although advanced computer technology is essential to program efficiency, it is not being effectively developed or used; (7) many means-tested programs are inherently vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse because of their size and complexity; and (8) the federal government has not articulated specific policy goals and does not collect sufficient data to determine whether means-tested programs are achieving their goals.

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