FNS Documents & Resources
This report is the latest in a series presenting estimates of the percentage of eligible persons, by State, who participate in the Food Stamp Program. The participation rate – a ratio of the number of participants to the number of people eligible for benefits – is an important measure of program performance. The report presents food stamp participation rates for States in an average month in fiscal year 2002 and the two previous fiscal years. These estimates are lower than the estimates in previous reports for several reasons. Although the average monthly number of participants rose about 2 million across all States from fiscal year 2000 to 2002, even more families and individuals became eligible for program benefits. The expansion in the eligible population reflects (a) the updated limits on the value of vehicles than an eligible household can own, (b) the program’s response to changing economic conditions, and (c) technical changes that improved the accuracy of the estimates. Nationally, the participation rate among eligible persons declined from 55.7 percent in fiscal year 2000 to 53.8 percent in fiscal year 2002.
Most discussion of payment accuracy in the Food Stamp Program focuses on the overall level and cost of payment errors. Rarely does the discussion focus on the impact of payment errors on individual households affected. This analysis – based on 2003 food stamp quality control data – leads to two broad conclusions. First, virtually all households receiving food stamps are eligible. Thus, the problem of erroneous payments is not so much one of determining eligibility, but rather one of attempting to finely target benefits to the complicated and changing circumstances of low-income households. Second, most overpayments to eligible households are small relative to household income and official poverty standards. As a result, most food stamp households are poor, and they remain poor even when overpaid.