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GAO Finds Food Stamp Program Efficiency Improving

Also showed reduced rate of program fraud

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Dateline: May 2005

A report released by the General Accounting Office (GAO) shows that efficiency in management of the federal Food Stamp program has reached its best level in history, and that continued improvements are expected when new data is released by USDA. In addition, the GAO report showed a significant reduction in the number of ineligible families receiving food stamps.

The report would seem to contradict recent criticism claiming high rates of “fraud, waste, and abuse” in the Food Stamp Program.

Among the findings of the GAO report were the following:

  • The rate of non-qualified food stamp recipients being granted benefits due to either administrative error or applicant fraud has declined by almost one-third over the past five years from 9.86 percent in 1999 to a record low of 6.63 percent in 2003. 98 percent of households receiving food stamps were eligible for the program.

  • The rate of benefits granted in error declined in 41 states and the District of Columbia.

  • As a result of the declining error rate between 1999 and 2003, the Food Stamp Program avoiding paying out some $700 million in erroneous payments in 2003 alone that it would otherwise have paid had the error rates from 1999 remained constant.

  • Of the errors reported in the Food Stamp Program, two-thirds were the result of caseworker error (such as failure to act on reported changes in income or making mistakes in applying program rules), while one-third were the result of participant error, such as failing to report income changes.

  • Declining error rates in the Food Stamp Program occurred during a time of rapidly rising participation in the program, showing increased efficiency and targeting of resources.

    The Food Stamp Program error rate represents the combined total of the food stamp overpayment rate as well as the underpayment rate – that is, benefits due to eligible recipients that they did not receive. If the underpayments were subtracted from the overpayments, arguably a more accurate way of measuring total food stamp benefits paid in error, the aggregate food stamp payments overpaid would equal $760 million for fiscal year 2003, just 3.5 percent of total food stamp benefits.

    The full GAO Report, Food Stamp Program: States Have Made Progress Reducing Payment Errors, and Further Challenges Remain (GAO-05-245), may be viewed (pdf) at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05245.pdf

    About the General Accounting Office
    The General Accounting Office is the investigative arm of Congress. Charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and disbursement of public funds, GAO performs audits and evaluations of Government programs and activities.

    Created under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the GAO conducts independent audits of government agencies. GAO is under the control and direction of the Comptroller General of the United States, who is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate for a term of 15 years.

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