Sneak Preview: GAO Urges FNS To Boost SNAP E&T Participation

Jerry Ashworth
January 4, 2019 at 07:35:59 ET
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(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) Although officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) plan to take steps to expand the reach of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training (E&T) programs and improve the reliability of state-reported data, more actions are needed to address concerns with SNAP E&T programs, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) recommended in a recent report.

In federal fiscal year (FY) 2017, FNS provided about $64 billion in benefits through the SNAP program. To maintain eligibility for benefits, SNAP recipients aged 16-59, unless exempted by law or regulation, must comply with the program’s work requirements. SNAP E&T programs, which are administered by states, were created to help SNAP recipients gain skills, training or experience and increase their ability to obtain regular employment. States can use SNAP E&T funds from FNS to provide enhanced individualized services to program participants.

GAO evaluated SNAP E&T participant data from FY 2008 through FY 2016, reviewed states’ FY 2017 SNAP E&T plans and outcome reports, and interviewed federal and state offices in five sampled states to assess the status of the SNAP E&T program. GAO found that the state SNAP E&T programs have served a small and decreasing percentage of overall SNAP recipients over time. For example, when analyzing data for an average month in FY 2016, GAO recorded 43.5 million SNAP recipients, of which 6.1 million were subject to work requirements. However, of this total, only 200,000 were SNAP E&T participants.

“State SNAP E&T programs have served a small percentage of SNAP recipients over the last decade potentially due in part to certain policy changes during that time, such as the increasing number of states moving from mandatory to voluntary SNAP E&T programs,” GAO explained. “The number of SNAP recipients served by SNAP E&T programs has also potentially been low because a limited number of those referred to state programs go on to participate in services.” For example, some recipients lacked transportation or childcare needed to participate in E&T services, while others were discouraged from taking advantage of E&T services due to past struggles finding employers willing to hire those with a criminal background.

Although FNS officials told GAO that they are aware of strategies that could assist in boosting participation in E&T programs, they have not fully researched the causes of low participation in the SNAP E&T program. They also told GAO that states could take steps to make enrolling and participation in SNAP E&T activities less burdensome for SNAP recipients.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time here.)

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