Food stamps, the federal government's main weapon against hunger, were issued to nearly 26,000 dead people in 1995-96 at a cost of $8.5 million, federal auditors said Tuesday.
The General Accounting Office said the stamps were issued to 25,881 deceased people in the two-year period, based on a review of California, Texas, New York and Florida.
Auditors made the estimate after comparing food stamp rolls with death lists in the four most populous states, which account for one-third of the country's 20.4 million food stamp recipients.
The GAO said it found 20 cases in which dead people were on food-stamp rolls in more than one state.
Food stamp officials said the GAO report did not measure whether the benefits sent to the dead were used or returned.
Last year, a GAO review of the same four states found that more than 12,000 inmates were wrongly included in households collecting food stamp benefits.
The average food stamp benefit is about $72 a month.