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Rokita Statement: Hearing on "Addressing Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Federal Child Nutrition Programs"

Last month, the Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to discuss the importance of federal child nutrition programs, many of which need to be reauthorized by Congress later this year. Members engaged in a robust discussion about these programs, and we understand the role healthy food plays in a child’s physical, mental, and emotional development. However, tackling waste, fraud, and abuse must be a priority as we work to ensure eligible students who are most in need have access to nutrition programs.

The federal government has long invested taxpayer dollars in programs that provide healthy meals and snacks to low-income students and families. Through the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act, it is estimated Congress will spend over $21 billion this fiscal year on a number of programs that include the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC, the National School Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program.

Congress has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are well-spent. That’s why we are here today. Recent reports from independent government watchdogs raise concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse in the administration of these programs. These concerns should be shared by every member of the committee for two important reasons.

First, taxpayer dollars are being misdirected toward individuals who do not need, or are eligible for, federal assistance. The Government Accountability Office has uncovered several troubling examples of fraud and abuse in the WIC program. Reports have also found WIC recipients and vendors reselling supplemental foods to non-WIC eligible individuals, defrauding the federally funded program for millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the misuse of taxpayer dollars does not stop there. In the first review of payment errors since 2007, the Department of Agriculture found that in just one school year it made $2.7 billion of improper payments under the school lunch and breakfast programs. According to the Wall Street Journal, the majority of improper payments stemmed from individuals who received benefits for which they did not qualify. American taxpayers deserve better management and oversight, especially at a time when the national debt continues to reach new heights.

This brings me to the second reason why we are here today, and it is just as important. Each and every dollar spent on a federal program should have a direct, meaningful, and lasting impact on those it is intended to serve – not those looking to cheat the system. We must ensure federal nutrition programs effectively and efficiently serve the low-income children and families who desperately need this assistance. As a witness from last month’s child nutrition hearing so aptly put it, “When we aren’t able to give our children the nutrition they need, we fail them.”

Again, it is Congress’ responsibility to ensure this multi-billion dollar investment in child nutrition is in fact reaching the students who need it most. This committee is committed to that goal as it works to reauthorize these important programs. We look forward to learning from our witnesses about how to improve the fiscal integrity of federal child nutrition programs in order to serve our nation’s mothers, infants, children, and students that are most in need.

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