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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services

Statement of Roberto Salazar, Administrator
Food and Nutrition Service
Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development,
Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies

March 8, 2007

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and members of the Subcommittee for allowing me this opportunity to present testimony in support of the fiscal year 2008 budget request for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

The Food and Nutrition Service is the agency charged with administering the fifteen nutrition assistance programs that create the Nationís nutrition safety net, and with providing Federal leadership in Americaís ongoing struggle against hunger and poor nutrition. Our stated mission is to increase food security, reduce hunger and improve health outcomes in partnership with cooperating organizations by providing children and low-income people access to nutritious food and nutrition education in a manner that inspires public confidence and supports American agriculture. The budget request clearly demonstrates the Presidentís continuing commitment to this mission and our programs, and strengthens the Federal nutrition assistance safety net in a time of competing priorities and limited resources. Balancing program access, good nutrition, and program integrity, this budget makes tough choices to meet our key commitments:

  • To ensure that low-income people have access to food by ensuring sufficient funding for the major nutrition assistance programs.

  • To promote healthful diets and active lifestyles by making nutrition education an integral part of nutrition assistance programs.

  • To manage prudently and efficiently so that every nutrition assistance dollar invested has the maximum positive benefit for those truly in need.

The request includes over $59 billion in new budget authority to fulfill this mission through the FNS nutrition assistance programs. These critical programs touch the lives of more than 1 in 5 Americans over the course of a year.

The resources we are here to discuss represent an investment in the health, self-sufficiency, and productivity of Americans who, at times, find themselves in need of nutrition assistance. In her testimony, Under Secretary Johner has outlined the three critical challenges which the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services team has focused on under her leadership: expanding access to the Federal nutrition assistance programs; promoting healthful diets and active lifestyles by making nutrition education an integral part of the nutrition assistance programs; and, improving the integrity with which our programs are administered. In addition, the Presidentís Management Agenda provides an ambitious agenda for management improvement across the Federal Government. I would like to report on our efforts to address two specific items under this agenda - reducing improper payments and enhancing the efficiency of program delivery, and systematically planning for the human capital challenges facing all of the Federal service.

The Challenge of Improper Payments

As with any Federal program, the nutrition assistance programs require sustained attention to program integrity, which is as fundamental to our mission as program access or healthy eating. We cannot sustain these programs over the long term without continued public trust in our ability to manage them effectively. We have identified four programs as susceptible to significant improper payments: the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and WIC. Our efforts to minimize improper program payments focus on: 1) working closely with States to improve food stamp payment accuracy; 2) implementing policy changes and new oversight efforts to improve school meals certification; 3) improving management of CACFP providers; and 4) improving management of WIC vendors. We will continue to enhance the efficiency and accuracy with which these programs are delivered. I am happy to report that in fiscal year 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, we achieved an historic level of food stamp payment accuracy, marking the seventh consecutive year of improvement. The combined payment error rate in the Food Stamp Program was only 5.84 percent in fiscal year 2005, and with this budget request we will sustain our efforts with our State partners toward continued improvement. We have continued our efforts to address the issue of proper certification in the school meals programs in a way that improves the accuracy of this process without limiting access of eligible children. Analytical work will continue under this budget request to better assess the accuracy of payments determinations in WIC and CACFP.

Human Capital Management

We currently estimate that up to 80 percent of our senior leaders and nearly 30 percent of our total workforce are eligible to retire within five years. The Food and Nutrition Service has received just nominal increases for basic program administration in recent years, and has significantly reduced its Federal staffing levels over time. Agency staffing levels are now at a critical point; we must have the ability to acquire new staff. This budget proposes the addition of 30 staff years to perform fundamental program integrity activities for the Food Stamp Program. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished. I believe full funding of the nutrition programs administration request in this budget is essential in order to continue our efforts to improve program integrity and program access.

Now, I would like to review some of the components of our request under each program area.

Food Stamp Program

The Presidentís budget requests $39.8 billion for the Food Stamp account including the Food Stamp Program and its associated nutrition assistance programs. These resources will serve an estimated 26.2 million people on average each month in the Food Stamp Program alone. Included in this request is the continuation of the $3 billion contingency reserve provided for the program in fiscal year 2007. We have also proposed, as an alternative to the traditional contingency reserve, indefinite funding authority for program benefits and payments to States and other non-Federal entities. In addition, we have made a concentrated effort to encourage working families, senior citizens and legal immigrants to apply for benefits.

The budget, as well as our Farm Bill reauthorization proposal, includes proposals to exclude the value of retirement accounts and education savings accounts from the asset test. These proposals enable low-income people to get nutrition assistance without depleting their retirement savings or education savings. We also need to ensure program access is administered in an equitable manner across all States. Our budget once again proposes to eliminate categorical food stamp eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) participants who receive only non-cash TANF services. When fully implemented in fiscal year 2009, this change is estimated to affect approximately 329,000 individuals, all of whom have income or assets that exceed the programís regular limits, and save $543 million in FSP spending over five years. We believe this proposal ensures that food stamp benefits go to the individuals with demonstrated need and retains categorical eligibility for the large number of recipients who receive cash assistance through TANF, Supplemental Security Income and General Assistance Programs.

The budget also requests permanent authority for a policy included in last yearís Appropriations to exclude special military pay received by members of the armed forces serving in combat zones when determining food stamp benefits for their families back home. Finally, the Administration remains committed to changing the name of the program and has proposed a new name for Congressional consideration.

Child Nutrition Programs

The budget requests $13.9 billion for the Child Nutrition Programs, which provide millions of nutritious meals to children in schools and in childcare settings every day. This level of funding will provide over 5.25 billion meals and support an increase in daily National School Lunch Program participation from the current 30 million children to approximately 31 million children. Requested increases in these programs reflect rising school enrollment, increases in payment rates to cover inflation, and proportionately higher levels of meal service among children in the free and reduced price categories.

WIC

The Presidentís budget includes $5.4 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the WIC Program. The request will provide food, nutrition education, and a link to health care to a monthly average of 8.3 million needy women, infants and children during fiscal year 2008.

The request places a limit on Nutrition Services and Administration (NSA) funding to no more than $14.12 per participant, the amount received in fiscal year 2006. This proposal targets WIC resources to providing food benefits to participants while the reduction in NSA funding. It is not anticipated that this change will have a significant impact with the delivery of core WIC services. States will be encouraged to work with Federal program staff to seek efficiencies in the delivery of the program to ensure that the reduction in NSA funding does not impact core services.

The budget request limits automatic (adjunctive) eligibility based on participation in Medicaid to those individuals whose incomes are below 250 percent of Federal poverty guidelines. In some States, Medicaid permits participation of individuals with incomes significantly higher than the WIC eligibility standard WIC (185 percent of the Federal poverty level). This proposal will better target WIC benefits to those most in need.

The $125 million contingency fund provided in the fiscal year 2003 appropriation and reestablished in fiscal year 2005, is increased to $200 million with this request. However, we currently do not anticipate using the reserve in fiscal year 2008, since the Presidentís budget request will fully meet our projected program need.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

The budget request eliminates funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP, which serves low-income elderly persons and women, infants and children. We believe our limited resources are best focused on the major nutrition programs Ė the Food Stamp Program and WIC, for example Ė that are available nationwide and that provide flexibility and robust nutrition education opportunities for participants. In addition, targeting our limited resources to these national programs promotes equity and the effective use of taxpayer funds. Currently, CSFP operates only in limited areas of 32 States, in the District of Columbia, and through two Indian Tribal Organizations. Furthermore, CSFP benefits and target populations overlap to a great extent with the Food Stamp Program and WIC. By transitioning CSFP participants into these national programs, we believe they will be better served, both in terms of benefits and in terms of nutrition education, promoting equity and effectiveness.

To support this transition, the budget request includes $2 million to provide outreach and assist individuals enrolling in the Food Stamp Program. Furthermore, elderly CSFP participants who do not already participate in the Food Stamp Program will receive a $20 per month transitional benefit for six months or until they enroll in the Food Stamp Program, whichever occurs first.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

As provided for in the Farm Bill, the budget requests $140 million for commodities in this important program. Our request for Statesí storage and distribution costs, critical support for the Nationís food banks, is $49.5 million. The Food and Nutrition Service is committed to ensuring the continuing flow of resources to the food bank community, including directly purchased commodities, administrative funding, and surplus commodities from the USDA market support activities. Much of this funding is provided, at the local level, to faith-based organizations. Surplus commodity donations significantly increase the amount of commodities available to the food bank community from Federal sources.

Nutrition Programs Administration (NPA)

We are requesting $148.9 million in this account, which includes an increase to partially offset personnel-related costs of the FNS workforce in fiscal year 2008. Our request for Federal administrative resources is needed to sustain the program management and support activities of our employees nationwide. The NPA account supports both FNSí administration of the nutrition assistance programs and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotionís nutrition policy development and promotion activities targeted at the general population. In addition, specific requests for this account include increases to support continuing work on MyPyramid; to prepare for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans; and to support important program assessment and demonstration partnerships focused on evaluating new and innovative ways of improving the delivery of Food Stamp Program services. I firmly believe we need this increase in funding in order to maintain accountability for our $59 billion portfolio and to assist States to effectively manage the programs and provide access to all eligible people.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this written testimony.

Last modified: 01/25/2012