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The federal government spends billions of dollars every year on domestic food assistance programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers most of these programs and monitors the prevalence of food insecurity--that is, the percentage of U.S. households that were unable to afford enough food sometime during the year. Other federal agencies also fund food assistance programs; however, comprehensive and consolidated information on the multiple programs is not readily available. Congress asked GAO to examine: 1) the prevalence of food insecurity in the United States, 2) spending on food assistance programs, 3) what is known about the effectiveness of these programs in meeting program goals, and 4) the implications of providing food assistance through multiple programs and agencies. GAO's steps included analyzing food security and program spending data, analyzing studies on program effectiveness, analyzing relevant federal laws and regulations, conducting site visits, and interviewing relevant experts and officials.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. The Secretary of Agriculture, as the principal administrator of the federal government's food assistance programs, should identify and develop methods for addressing potential inefficiencies among food assistance programs and reducing unnecessary overlap among the smaller programs while ensuring that those who are eligible receive the assistance they need. Approaches may include conducting a study; convening a group of experts (consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act), including, for example, representatives of the 18 food assistance programs, state representatives, and local providers; considering which of the lesser-studied programs need further research; or piloting proposed changes. Recommendations from further study could be used by administering agencies or, if appropriate, by Congress to improve the federal government's food assistance system.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2014, USDA reported that it had completed a study in February 2014 with an evaluation contractor to gain a better understanding of states' implementation of broad-based, narrow, and traditional categorical eligibility. In July 2014, USDA confirmed that the agency had determined funds were available to conduct a study to assess the extent of overlap and duplication among all nutrition assistance programs administered by USDA and that such a study is currently underway, with an expected release date in December 2014. A study assessing the extent of overlap and duplication among nutrition assistance programs should provide USDA with the information it needs to identify and develop methods for addressing potential inefficiencies and reducing unnecessary overlap among food programs.

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