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Coburn, Voinovich Statement on New GAO Study on Food Assistance Programs

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and George V. Voinovich (R-OH) released the following statement today regarding a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on domestic food assistance programs. GAO found that the federal government operates nearly 70 domestic food assistance programs that cost tens of billions of dollars annually. Many of these programs overlap, are inefficient, and may not be as effective as other food programs.

"Across government, Congress needs to know which programs are working before creating new programs. Government itself needs to go on a diet," Dr. Coburn said. "I'm disappointed this report found widespread duplication and inefficiency among 70 food assistance programs. Failing to do the hard work of streamlining these programs harms the very people we intend to help. I plan to offer legislation to eliminate, consolidate and improve these programs to ensure taxpayer funds are not being wasted and that Americans seeking assistance are not being lost within a complex bureaucratic maze."

"Today hunger is at an all time high in Ohio, just as it is in many other states across our country," Sen. Voinovich said. "Knowing what programs the federal government currently offers is a critical piece of the puzzle. We need to better manage our federal food programs and make sure Ohioans, and all Americans, get the food assistance they need as we face arguably the worst recession since the Great Depression."

GAO focused its review on 18 federal programs that "focus primarily on providing food and nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and households." These programs cost $62.5 billion in fiscal year 2008.

While research "suggests" participation in seven of the programs reviewed "is associated with positive health and nutrition outcomes," GAO found "little is known about the effectiveness of the remaining 11 programs because they have not been well studied."

GAO describes the array of federal food programs as a "complex network" that "show signs of program overlap, which can create unnecessary work and lead to inefficient use of resources."

"Our work has shown that overlap among programs can create an environment in which participants are not served as efficiently and effectively as possible. Additionally, program overlap can create the potential for unnecessary duplication of efforts for administering agencies, local providers, and individuals seeking assistance. Such duplication can waste administrative resources and confuse those seeking services," according to GAO.

Some examples provided by GAO questioning program ineffectiveness include:

* The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program), is the largest federal nutrition assistance program. While meeting many of its goals, GAO reports it "is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition in low-income households, another program goal. While studies show the program increases household food expenditures and the nutrients available to the household, research finds little or no effect on the dietary or nutrient intake of individuals."

* "There is conflicting and inconclusive evidence on the National School Lunch Program's effects on other outcomes related to the goal of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of children such as childhood obesity." In fact, one study referenced by GAO reveals "school lunch eaters were more likely to be obese or overweight and to have higher body mass index (BMI) scores by 3rd and 5th grade than "brown-baggers.'"

* There was conflicting research on whether the School Breakfast "program increases the frequency that students eat breakfast."

* A review of the School Breakfast Pilot Program, which is aimed at providing "universal free meals, found no effect on general measures of health or cognitive development."

* Four of the five largest food assistance programs are entitlements that "provide benefits to all individuals or households that meet eligibility requirements and apply for the program. This means that participation and benefits for these programs are not capped."

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