According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal government spent $100 billion on food assistance programs last year to feed 110 million people.
Most of this total – $75 billion – was spent on food stamps issued to 46 million Americans in 2014 according to congressional testimony from the GAO’s Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Kay E. Brown.
The national school lunch program came in second at a cost of $11.3 billion with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at $7.1 billion. Puerto Rico received food assistance worth $1.9 billion.
Brown testified that “inefficient use of federal funds” may exist due to the government’s “complex network of 18 food assistance programs, administered by three federal agencies” rendering these agencies unable to determine how effective the programs are. Brown continued:
“In 2010, research GAO reviewed suggested that participation in seven of these programs was associated with positive outcomes, such as improving nutrition among low-income households”…but that “Little was known about the effectiveness of the remaining 11.”
The GAO report referred to in Brown’s testimony included a list of the 18 federal programs which, taken together, served a total 109.9 million Americans in 2014. The effectiveness of the 18 programs as a whole could not be determined since there is no mechanism in place to identify and track individuals participating in multiple nutrition assistance programs.
Brown said the GAO has urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address potential overlaps in their programs – an effort undertaken by the USDA in 2013 “to study the impact of participation in multiple food assistance programs on the nutritional status of participants.”
“While such a study will provide important information, it does not address GAO’s recommendation,” Brown said. “GAO continues to believe that further action is needed.”
One outcome parameter missing from the GAO report was the effect that Food Stamps and other “nutrition assistance” programs are having on the motivation by beneficiaries to finds jobs and stay employed.
There is an old axiom in the theory and practice of government assistance programs that states if you subsidize something, you get more of it.