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Food Stamp Program: Options for Delivering Financial Incentives to Participants for Purchasing Targeted Foods

GAO-08-415 Published: Jul 30, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2008.
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In fiscal year 2007, the Food Stamp Program provided about $30.4 billion in nutrition assistance benefits to 26.5 million individuals. Benefits are issued through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, similar to debit cards, to purchase eligible foods at authorized retail stores. The diets of many low-income individuals, like the U.S. population overall, do not meet federal dietary guidelines. One potential strategy for increasing the purchases of targeted foods that contribute to a healthy diet is to incorporate into the program financial incentives for purchasing these foods. GAO was asked to identify (1) what is known about the effectiveness of financial incentives and other approaches intended to increase the purchase of targeted foods, (2) the key factors to consider in designing a financial incentive program, and (3) options available to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for implementing financial incentives. GAO interviewed agency and state officials, retailers and associations, private EBT contractors, and other stakeholders; convened a panel of 17 experts; and conducted a literature review. In commenting on this report, FNS generally agreed with GAO's findings and concluding observations.

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