Testing Various Alternative Identification Requirements for Food Stamp Recipients

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-04-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                    COMPTROLLER     GENERAL     OF      THE      UNITED      STATES
                                  WASHINGTON.    D.C.         20548

                                                                      APRf       1977

The Honorable Herman E. Talmadge
Chairman, Committee on Agriculture,
  Nutrition,  and Forestry   g3dQm-o
United States Senate
Dear Mr.    Chairman:
        As discussed      with your office,       we are presenting
information       on demonstration      project-authority     for
testing     alternative      food stamp program identification
requirements.          The information     may be useful    to your
Committee in considering           current    food stamp legislative
        On June 17, 1976, we issued a report                (see enclosure)
to the Department          of Agriculture      about increased
identification         requirements     for food stamp recipients.
The report,        developed     in response to the concerns of the
Chairman, Legislative            Branch Subcommittee,        House Committee
on Appropriations,           recommended that the Department            (1) in-
quire further        into the possibility        of obtaining      data from
project      areas already       using photo identification          cards for
food stamp recipients            before funding additional         tests of
this procedure         and (2) consider       sponsoring     tests of other
procedures       that may strengthen        food stamp identification
requirements,        including      but not limited      to
      --perforating   stamps with               a recipient's                         identification
         card number,
      --signing      and countersigning                       larger         denomination              stamps,
      --using   photo identification      cards in conjunction
         with  stamp perforation      or countersignature.
       In a reply to our report,       the Department      said that its
Office   of the General Counsel believed         new identification
requirements,     if mandatory     in only certain     localities   for

.   .


        test purposes,            would subject      such tests       to legal challenges
        on the grounds that the Food Stamp Act (7 U.S.C.                          2011 et
        5.)        includes       a provision     requiring      uniform    national
        eligibility           standards.       The Department       told us that it
        therefore         intended     to rescind      a proposed regulation            which
        would have authorized               the Secretary      of Agriculture         to
        suspend,        for test purposes,          certain    food stamp regulations.
        This proposed regulation                was originally        designed to be a
        preliminary           step -toward implementing          three demonstr-ation
        projects        testing     photo identification           cards.    As of the
        middle of March 1977, the Department                     was finalizing         a draft
        notice,       to be published          in the Federal Register,           officially
        rescinding          the proposed regulation.            The Department          has
        also submitted            to the 95th Congress a-legislative               request
        for demonstration             project    authority     specifically       covering
        tests      of photo identification             card and countersignature
                The following        chronology      lists     these and various     other
        actions      the Congress and the Administration                 took during     the
        period October         1975 to March 1977 related              to increased
        identification         requirements       for food stamp recipients          and
        the authorization          of demonstration           projects   to test various
        means for improving           food stamp program administration,               in-
        cluding      recipient     identification          requirements.
        October     7, 1975
        The Congress agreed to the conference        report  accompanying
        the 1976 Agriculture     and Related Agencies Appropriations
        Bill.  The conference     report  recommended that the Department
        adopt a regulation    requiring   recipients    to countersign   food
        stamps being redeemed at food stores.

        October     20,   1975
        The President proposed legislation      intended                  -to establish
        demonstration project    authority  for testing                    photo identifica-
        tion card and countersignature     procedures.
        November 7,       1975

        The House Committee on Appropriations         submitted     a report    to
        accompany the 1976 Supplemental       Appropriations      Bill   which
        repeated    the countersignature    recommendation      contained    in
        the earlier    conference    report and stated     that this and other

changes "must be made in the regulations                      immediately   if the
Lfood stamp7 program is to be preserved                     for the legitimate
April     8, 1976
The Senate passed a food stamp reform bill               (S. 3136) which
included    general demonstration       project     authority        "for
purposes of increasing       the program's      efficiency         and delivery
of benefits     to eligible    households."       In general,.         the bill
prohibited     any demonstration     project    which would lower or
restrict    the resource    and income eligibility            limitations,
or increase     the purchase requirement        for eligible           recipients.
June 11, 1976
The Department published            in the Federal Register       a
proposed regulation           on the Secretary   of Agriculture's
authority     to suspend a food stamp regulation           in a given
project    area "for the purpose of testing           administrative
procedures      which are not in conflict        with express pro-
visions    of the Food Stamp Act and which have potential             for
nationwide      applicability."
       We reviewed       28 responses received              by the Department to
this proposed regulation.               These responses            included      comments
from 17 State agencies,             several      welfare      rights     groups,     and
other interested         parties.       Nest of the respondents                generally
favored     the proposed regulation.               However, some agencies and
organizations        favoring     the proposal         recommended various
changes, such as prohibiting                demonstration          projects      from
reducing      or terminating        the benefits         to eligible        households;
promulgating        more explicit       approval       criteria,        proposal      sub-
mission mechanisms,           and monitoring          procedures;        making the
Department'.s       proposed test regulations               consistent        with any
existing      Department of Health,            Education,        and Welfare
regulations        on demonstration         projects;       and specifying          the
percent     of Federal funding          for test projects.                Four
responses,       including     two from State agencies,                 expressly
opposed the proposed regulation                 , primarily        on the grounds
that the proposal          exceeded the Department's                 statutory
authority      by violating       the Food Stamp Act's requirement                     for
national      standards     of eligibility,           and did not establish
any structure         for recipient       input regarding            the formulation,
approval,      or implementation          of the test projects.

July   9, 1976
The Department's         Office      of the General Counsel informed               the
director      of the food stamp program that,                 in its opinion,
there were no specific             legal prohibitions          against     finger-
print     or photo identification           requirements         for food stamp
recipients      if these requirements            were uniformly         applied
to all recipients.            The director       was told,       however, that
if such identification             requirements       became mandatory          in   .
only certatn       localities        for demonstration         project.purposes,
serious     legal questions          would result        because program
participation        would then be conditioned              on recipients'
submitting      themselves       to the test procedures,             thereby
potentially       subjecting       the demonstration          projects     to legal
challenges      on the grounds that the Food Stamp Act requires
uniform national          standards      of eligibility,         or that the
equal protection          requirement      of the Constitution           was being
August    10,   1976
The House Committee on Agriculture              voted to report         out a
food stamp reform bill          (H.R. 13613) which contained               a
provision    authorizing      the Secretary      of Agriculture          to con-
duct demonstration        projects,    expressly     including       tests of
the use of photo identification             cards and countersignature
of food stamps.        In general,     the bill     prohibited       any
demonstration     project     which would have the effect              of re-
ducing or terminating         benefits    to otherwise       eligible        house-
holds.    The 94th Congress adjourned            on October 1, 1976,
without   passing either-the         House or Senate version             of food
stamp reform legislation.
November 16, 1976
The Department's      Food and Nutrition     Service- informed      us
that it had recommended rescission          of the June 1976 pro-
posed regulation.         The Service indicated      that it took
this action    on the basis of the General Counsel's
July 1976 opinion.          The Service also said that specific
legislation    would be necessary       to authorize     food stamp
demonstration     projects     to test procedures      dealing with
conditions    of eligibility.

January     18, 1977
The Department    submitted    its food stamp legislative
recommendations     to the 95th Congress.         Included was a
request   for photo identification      card and counter-
signature    demonstration   project   authority.
March 16, 1977
The Department was finalizing   a draft    notice,    to be
published  in the Federal Register,    formally    rescinding
its June 11, 1976, proposed regulation      on test projects.

         The Food Stamp Act, as amended (7 U.S.C. 2014(b)),
requires      the Secretary        of Agriculture           to establish
"uniform      national      standards      of eligibility           for participa-
tion"      in the food stamp program.                 If compulsory         use of
photo identification            cards, countersignature                 procedures,
or other alternative            identification            methods is considered
one criterion        of eligibility          for food stamp participation,
it would be improper under present                      law to apply such
identification         requirements        to some localities              and not to
others for demonstration              project        purposes.        If compulsory
identification         requirements        are not considered              an
eligibility       criterion,       local     identification           test projects
would not conflict           with the quoted provision                  of the Food
Stamp Act.        Legal opinions         vary on whether compulsory
administrative         requirements        of the type discussed               here
constitute       a criterion-of         eligibility.           It should be
emphasized,       however, that any compulsory                   identification
regulation,       whether or not considered                 a criterion        of
eligibility,        imposes an identical              requirement--the           food
stamp recipient          must comply with the identification                       pro-
cedures being tested as a condition                       of receiving        and using
food stamps.
       These legal considerations         and the chronology          listed
above indicate      that,  if the Congress wants the Department
of Agriculture      to conduct meaningful        tests of new food
stamp identification      procedures      as mandatory requirements
in one or more project         areas prior   to their       possible      im-
plementation     on a nationwide     basis,    the Congress will           have
to enact clear food stamp demonstration              project      authority
specifically     covering    tests of various       identification


    requirements     for recipients.      As a followup      to our past
    work in this area, we plan to review any subsequent
    efforts   by the Department      to develop,     implement,    and
    evaluate    food stamp identification        requirement    tests.
           Again, we hope this information    will be useful    to
    your Committee.     This report  is also being addressed
    to the Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture.          A
    copy of the report    will  be sent to the Secretary    of
    Agriculture   and to the Chairman, Legislative     Branch-
    Subcommittee,   House Committee on Appropriations.
                                                 ely yo       s

                                                  &   m   l

                                         Comptroller  General
                                         of the United States


     ENCLOSURE I                               COPY                       ENCLOSURE I

                                    UNITEDSTATESGENERA~~CCOUNTING OFFICE
                                            WASHINGTON,D.C. 20548

COMMUNITY     AND   ECONOMfC                                           June 17, 1976

          Mr.   Richard L. Feltner
          Assistant    Secretary  for          Marketing
              and Consumer Services
          Department of Agriculture
           Dear Mr.            Feltner:
                  In response to a congressional-inquiry,                we have been
           looking     into various       proposals    to strengthen      the food
           stamp program's        identification       requirements     for recipients.
           These proposals        include      (1) using photo identification
           cards for food stamp recipients,               (2) signing     and counter-
           signing     stamps, (3) punching or perforating              stamps with a
           recipient's      identification        card number, and (4) using
           photo identification           cards in conjunction       with stamp
           countersigning       or perforation.
                    Food and Nutrition       Service officials        informed      us that
           the Service plans to conduct tests of photo identification
           cards in three project           areas beginning     in the fall         and
           lasting       about 3 months.       States would run these tests but
           any costs over and above those normally                 incurred     would
           be paid by the Service.             The tests would begin after
           finalization       of Department of Agriculture            regulations
           establishing       demonstration      project   authority       for the food
           stamp program and publication             in the Federal Register             of
           notices       (1) requiring    the possession      of an approved photo
            identification       card as a food stamp eligibility              criterion
           in the three test areas, and (2) describing                   the specific
           guidelines       under which States would conduct the tests.
                   As you know, in late 1975 and early 1976, the Service
           solicited      comments from the States and from representatives
           of the retail        food industry      on the four identification
           proposals     described      above.     Service officials       told us that
           the negative       reactions     of the States and food retailer
           representatives         to the countersigning         and perforation
           proposals      prompted the Service         to limit    its planned tests
           to photo identification            cards only.       The food retailer
           representatives         and most States characterized           counter-
           signing,     in particular,        as a procedure      which would be
           costly    and excessively        time consuming for both issuance
           offices    and food stores.           Many States also were concerned
ENCLOSURE I                                                         ENCLOSURE I

  that stamp perforation  would require special equipment and
  procedures that would be expensive and burdensome to issuing
  agents and food stores.
         During our work to date, we have reviewed the responses
  of the States and have contacted             a food advocacy group and
  food retailer      representatives,        Much of the criticism
  directed    at countersigning       and perforation     was based on
  broad, initial       estimates    of what their     impacts would be.
  None of the States had data or studies on perforation                and
  only one State had previously          tested countersigning.
  This one State (Mississippi),           in November 1975, conducted
  a l-day,    30-household test of the time involved            in signing
  food stamp of all denominations             at an issuance office.
  From the results        of that test,     the State concluded that
  processing     times would be increased significantly.             Some
  States also said that the Service did not have enough
  data on the unauthorized          use of food stamps in the
  respective     States to justify      the use of any of the proposed
           A photo identification         requirement    alone may curb
  certain     types of unauthorized          use of food stamps,
  especially      the illegal      redemption of lost or stolen
  authorization-to-purchase            cards.      Four jurisdictions
  (Delaware;      New Hampshire;       the' District    of Columbia; and
  St. Louis, Missouri)          now use photo identification             cards
  in the food stamp program on a voluntary                 basis.      Data
  should be available         from these jurisdictions           on the pro-
  cedures,.benefits,         costs,    and problems associated           with
  starting      up and operating       this type of identification
  system for food stamp recipients.                 The District      of
  Columbia, for example, started               its food stamp photo iden-
  tification      program in-1973.          Also, some States issue
. photo identification          cards to public assistance            recipients
  on either      a voluntary     or nonvoluntary       basis.
          Sereice officials    told us that evaluation       of the
   existing    food stamp photo identification        systems was
   rejected    in favor of new tests      in three different    project
   areas because the responses by the four jurisdictions             to
   the Service's     inquiries   in 1975-1976 were limited      and
   indicated     the absence of any ongoing review of the impact
   of photo identification       procedures.      We believe that the
   Service has not made a sufficient         effort   to obtain needed
   data from the projects      that are using photo identification
   cards.    Should the needed data already be available,           further
   demonstration     tests of this procedure may not be necessary.

ENCLOSURE I                                                        ENCLOSURE I

         In comparison with the use of photo identification
cards,     there are little      or no data or studies        available
on countersigning,        stamp perforation,       or the combination
of these measures with photo identification                cards.     Stamp
perforation       seems particularly       worthy of further      study
because no judgement would be required               by the retail
food store clerk --either          the perforated     number would
match the identification           card number or it would not.
The perforated        number of an entire       book of stamps could
be quickly       examined if the perforated         number were punched
into the book at one time.             Also, the food advocacy-group
we contacted       recommended the use of a nonphoto identifica-
tion card bearing an identification              number that would be
punched into the recipient's            stamp book as a way to combat
 illegal     food stamp trafficking.
       In the one limited       test of countersigning   referred
to above, every stamp in every stamp book had to be signed
and countersigned.        Additional    tests of this procedure
would seem warranted --particularly          tests where only the
larger   denomination     stamps ($5 and $10 stamps, or just
$10 stamps) would be signed.           Our calculations  indicated
that requiring     signatures      and countersignatures   on only
the $5 'and $10 stamps would reduce the number of stamps to
be signed by about 50 percent.
        Another possibility         which might warrant           testing     is to
use a combination         of photo identification            cards and
perforated      stamps.      A variation       of this combination          would
be to require       that the person whose.photo              appears on the
identification        card-- either      the head of the household or
his authorized        representative       --must purchase the stamps,
but to permit anyone with the identification                      card in his
possession      to use the stamps to obtain              food--as      long as the
perforated      number in the stamps matched the number on the
identification        card.    This procedure         (1) has the potential
advantages of reducing           the use of stolen          authorization-to-
purchase-cards        and the use of food stamps improperly
obtained      by unauthorized       persons,     and (2) avoids the dis-
advantage of limiting          the use of stamps to only one person
per household.
       In summary, we believe    that the Department of.
Agriculture   and the Food and Nutrition     Service should in-
quire further    into the possibility    of obtaining    data from
the project   areas already   using photo identification       cards
before funding additional     tests of this procedure.        We

ENCLOSURE I                                                        ENCLOSURE I

 also believe that the Department and the Service should
 consider   sponsoring  tests of other procedures that may
 strengthen   the food stamp identification   requirements,
 including   but not limited  to the proposals discussed
        We appreciate      the cooperation    extended to us by the
Service's      Food Stamp Division      during this inquiry.
Please advise us of the Department's            decisions  and
actions     regarding    the study and testing      of food stamp
identification       proposals.

                                         Sincerely    yours,
                                         /s/Stanley    S. Sargol
                               for       Brian Crowley
                                         Assistant Director