Ours is a kind-hearted nation that has always been willing to give a helping hand to those in need. And, in the United States, the largest producer of food on the planet, nobody should go hungry.
As the country has worked its way through economic turmoil, more and more Americans have needed nutrition assistance. In fact, in the last 10 years the number of people receiving food assistance has more than doubled, and the amount of money spent to provide that assistance has more than tripled.
In the meantime, our nation's budget picture has turned far worse, with a string of trillion dollar deficits and a national debt of more than $15 trillion. If we want to continue to be able to provide a hand up to those who need it, we must eliminate waste and ensure that the only people receiving food assistance are those who truly need it.
Last year, as chairwoman of the committee with responsibility for our nation's food assistance programs, I held a hearing to discuss the programs' integrity, waste, fraud and abuse. What I heard was not very encouraging. The Department of Agriculture estimates that improper payments in nutrition assistance was provided in 4.4% of all cases. These errors cost taxpayers some $2.2 billion -- and this was an improvement over previous years. As food assistance programs continue to grow, the total dollar value of improper payments will explode.
Frankly, that is unacceptable.
So, this week, the Agriculture Committee advanced a package of reforms that should help our food assistance programs operate as smoothly and efficiently as possible. And, just as importantly, these reforms will help to ensure that help will be available for those who are truly in need. Changes to the program will result in $33.2 billion of savings by closing loopholes and significantly reducing waste and abuse within the programs. Additionally, this bill would not cause any families or individuals who meet eligibility requirements to lose benefits.
No American should ever go to bed hungry. Nor, though, should billions of taxpayers' dollars be wasted in the implementation of worthy, public food assistance programs. The goals are to provide help to those who legitimately need it while identifying and stopping improper payments to those who do not meet the program requirements. These reforms, I'm convinced, will do both.