Food and Nutrition Service
HomeAbout FNSNewsroomHelpContact USEn Espanol

 

 


  

Search all USDA
Search Tips
Search Tips
Email Updates


Sign-up to receive free email updates

 


Community Outreach
Data and Statistics
Disaster Assistance
FNS Job Announcements
Forms
Food Safety
Grants
Nutrition Education
Regulations & Policy
Research
Services & Programs

 
  Newsroom
 
 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service

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

March 13, 2008

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and members of the Subcommittee for allowing me this opportunity to present testimony in support of the fiscal year 2009 budget request for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The Food and Nutrition Service is the agency charged with administering fifteen nutrition assistance programs that serve as the Nationís nutrition safety net, and with providing Federal leadership in Americaís ongoing effort to reduce hunger and poor nutrition. Our mission is to increase food security and reduce hunger in partnership with cooperating organizations by providing children and low-income people access to food and nutrition education in a manner that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence. The budget request demonstrates the Presidentís continuing commitment to this mission and these programs. This budget strengthens the Federal nutrition assistance safety net in a time of competing priorities and limited resources, balancing program access, good nutrition, and program integrity to meet our key commitments to serve program clients effectively and with dignity, and to protect the taxpayer investment that makes these programs a reality.

The request includes over $64.1 billion in budget authority to fund the FNS nutrition assistance programs Ė programs that 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 outlined three critical challenges that 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 represents an ambitious strategy for management improvement across the Federal Government. I would like to report on our efforts to address one of the key items from this agenda - reducing improper payments and enhancing the efficiency of program delivery.

The Challenge of Improper Payments

Good financial management is at the center of the Presidentís Management Agenda. As with any Federal program, the nutrition assistance programs require sustained attention to integrity. We cannot sustain these programs over the long term without continued public trust in our ability to manage them effectively. For this reason, a high degree of program integrity is as fundamental to our mission as program access or healthy eating.

We have identified four programs susceptible to significant improper payments: the Food Stamp Program, the school meals programs, 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 2006, the most recent year for which data are available, we maintained a high level of food stamp payment accuracy. The combined payment accuracy rate in the Food Stamp Program was an outstanding 94.01 percent in fiscal year 2006. 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 certification error in the school meals programs to improve the accuracy of this process without limiting access of eligible children, or unduly increasing administrative burden on schools. In November 2007, we issued the results of the first-ever attempt to develop a comprehensive measure of the cost of improper payments in the school meals programs. This initiative helps to identify the sources of improper payments and quantifies the scope of the problem. FNS is using this new information to continue the extensive work underway. We are under no illusion, however, that this task will be easy. Actions to reduce these errors must improve accuracy without compromising access for low-income families, must not be unduly burdensome on schools, and must be cost-effective. Analytical work will also continue under this budget request to better assess the accuracy of payments in WIC and CACFP.

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

Food Stamp Program

The Presidentís budget requests $43.3 billion for the Food Stamp account including the Food Stamp Program, continuation of the contingency reserve, and its associated nutrition assistance programs. These resources will serve an estimated 28.0 million people on average each month in the Food Stamp Program alone. 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 plan to continue our concentrated effort to encourage working families, senior citizens and legal immigrants to apply for benefits.

The budget request includes $9 million for program evaluation and modernization efforts in three significant areas: $4.5 million for the demonstration and evaluation of alternative strategies to modernize the application and re-certification process, $2 million to evaluate promising Food Stamp nutrition education practices, and $2.5 million to test alternative strategies to increase participation among the elderly and working poor.

The fiscal year 2009 budget request assumes that Administration Farm Bill proposals are enacted in the middle of fiscal year 2008. These include proposals to exclude the value of retirement accounts and education savings accounts from the asset test, thus enabling low-income people to get nutrition assistance without depleting their retirement savings or education savings. The Presidentís budget improves access among the working poor by eliminating the cap on the dependent care deduction. The budget also includes a proposal that provides permanent authority for a policy included in last yearís Appropriation to exclude special military pay received by members of the armed forces serving in combat zones when determining food stamp eligibility and benefits for their families back home. We also need to ensure program access is administered in an equitable manner across all States, so another Farm Bill proposal would eliminate categorical food stamp eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) participants who receive only non-cash TANF services. This change only affects those households who have income or assets that exceed the programís regular limits, and saves $636 million in Food Stamp Program spending through 2013. We believe this proposal ensures that food stamp benefits go to the households 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.

Child Nutrition Programs

The budget requests $14.5 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 5.31 billion meals and support an increase in daily National School Lunch Program participation from the current 31.6 million children to approximately 32.1 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.

The Presidentís budget request includes an additional $1 million for CACFP to permit FNS to develop payment accuracy estimates as required by the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002, and $2 million to fund the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment, the fourth in an ongoing series of evaluations of the quality of school meals. These proposals continue our efforts to improve program integrity and nutritional quality in the school meals programs.

WIC

The Presidentís budget includes $6.1 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 8.6 million needy women, infants and children during fiscal year 2009.

The request places a limit on Nutrition Services and Administration (NSA) funding to no more than $14.97 per participant, the amount received in fiscal year 2007. This proposal targets WIC resources to providing food benefits to participants while the reduction in NSA funding is not anticipated to have a significant impact on 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 the Federal poverty guidelines. Some State Medicaid programs permit participation of individuals with incomes significantly higher than the WIC eligibility standard (185 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines). This proposal better targets WIC benefits to those most in need.

The budget request includes $150 million for the WIC contingency fund, the same amount provided in fiscal year 2008. We currently anticipate fully using the contingency reserve in fiscal year 2009 to support participation.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

The budget again does not propose funding for CSFP. We continue to believe our limited resources are best focused on the major nutrition programs Ė the Food Stamp Program and the WIC Program, for example Ė that are available nationwide and 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, whereas the Food Stamp Program and the WIC Program are available nationwide. Furthermore, CSFP benefits and target populations overlap to a great extent with the Food Stamp Program and the WIC Program. By transitioning eligible CSFP participants into these national programs, we believe they will be better served, both in terms of benefits and in terms of nutrition education.

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. Finally, as I have noted, we are working very hard to increase participation among elderly eligibles.

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. FNS is committed to ensuring the continuing flow of resources to the food bank community, including directly purchased commodities, administrative funding, and commodities from the USDA market support activities. Much of this funding is provided, at the local level, to faith-based organizations.

Nutrition Programs Administration (NPA)

We are requesting $150.3 million in this account 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 and to continue the implementation of an evidence-based system for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

We currently estimate that nearly 40 percent of our total workforce is eligible to retire within five years. FNS has received just nominal increases for basic program administration in recent years, and has required us to significantly reduce its Federal staffing levels over time. Agency staffing levels are now at a critical point; we must have the ability to acquire new staff. I believe full funding of the NPA request in this budget is essential in order to continue our efforts to improve program integrity and program access. I firmly believe this investment Ė less than one-quarter of one percent of program funding Ė is critical in order to maintain accountability for our $64.1 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