Food Stamp Program: States Seek to Reduce Payment Errors and Program Complexity

GAO-01-272 Published: Jan 19, 2001. Publicly Released: Jan 19, 2001.
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In fiscal year 2000, the Department of Agriculture's Food Stamp Program, administered jointly by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the states, provided $15 billion in benefits to an average of 17.2 million low-income persons each month. FNS, which pays the full cost of food stamp benefits and half of the states' administrative costs, promulgates program regulations and oversees program implementation. The states run the program, determining whether households meet eligibility requirements, calculating monthly benefits the households should receive, and issuing benefits to participants. FNS assesses the accuracy of states' efforts to determine eligibility and benefits levels. Because of concerns about the integrity of Food Stamp Program payments, GAO examined the states' efforts to minimize food stamp payment errors and what FNS has done and could do to encourage and assist the states reduce such errors. GAO found that all 28 states it examined had taken steps to reduce payment errors. These steps included verifying the accuracy of benefit payments calculated through supervisory and other types of casefile reviews, providing specialized training for food stamp workers, analyzing quality control data to determine causes of errors and developing corrective actions, matching food stamp rolls with other federal and state computer databases to identify ineligible participants, and using computer software to assist caseworkers in determining benefits. To reduce payment errors, FNS has imposed financial sanctions on states with high error rates and has waived some reporting requirements.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To help ease program administration and potentially reduce payment errors, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to (1) develop and analyze options for simplifying requirements for determining program eligibility and benefits, (2) discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these options with representatives of the congressional authorizing committees, and (3) submit legislative proposals to simplify the Food Stamp Program, if warranted. The analysis of these options should include, among other things, estimating expected program costs, effects on program participation, and the extent to which the distribution of benefits among recipients could change.
Closed – Implemented
Title IV of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171, May 13, 2002) implemented GAO's recommendation by simplifying the rules for determining eligibility and benefits for the Food Stamp Program.

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