Welfare Programs

Opportunities to Consolidate and Increase Program Efficiencies Gao ID: HEHS-95-139 May 31, 1995

The federal government provides billions of dollars in public assistance each year through an inefficient welfare system that is increasingly cumbersome for program administrators to manage and difficult for eligible clients to access. Program consolidation may be one strategy to reduce the inefficiency of the current system of overlapping and fragmented programs. This report (1) describes low-income families' participation in multiple welfare programs; (2) examines program inefficiencies, such as program overlap and fragmentation; and (3) identifies issues to consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to consolidate welfare issues. Regardless of how the welfare system is restructured, ensuring that federal funds are used efficiently and that programs focus on outcomes remains important. Without a focus on outcomes, concerns and the effectiveness of welfare programs will not be adequately addressed.

GAO found that: (1) federal expenditures for the 80 welfare programs that provide assistance to low-income recipients totalled $223 billion in 1993; (2) many low-income families are eligible for and receive assistance from multiple programs; (3) most families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) are also eligible for Medicaid and food stamps; (4) welfare programs are difficult for needy families to access and for program administrators to operate; (5) numerous programs target the same clients, share the same goals, and provide similar services, creating program overlaps which add unnecessary administrative costs and complicate service delivery; (6) given their size and complex structure, welfare programs are inherently vulnerable to fraud and abuse and little is known about their effectiveness; (7) state governments and local providers have sought to streamline program operations and service delivery, but their efforts are hindered by the patchwork of federal programs and funding streams; (8) Congress is considering consolidating specific federal programs, such as employment training, child care subsidy, and housing programs; and (9) it is important to ensure that federal funds are used effectively regardless of how welfare programs are ultimately restructured.

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