The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provides access to food and seeks to improve the diets of needy Americans. The agency administers the food stamp program, the commodity distribution program, and child nutrition programs such as the school lunch, breakfast, school milk, and the school food service equipment programs. States determine most of the administrative details regarding distribution of food benefits and eligibility of participants, and the FNS provides funding to cover most of their administrative costs. The FNS is also able to subsidize the agricultural industry by purchasing and distributing surplus crops. The Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service is Audrey Rowe.
Although the agency was formally established in 1969, its earliest predecessors were products of New Deal legislation, which responded to economic collapse in the 1930s.
A major Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) program, the Food Stamp Program, began as the Food Stamp Plan designed to aid victims of the Great Depression. It is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The National School Lunch Program and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations also originated from New Deal relief plans that were aimed at helping American farmers who had lost their land. During this period, the danger of malnutrition among children became a national concern.
In 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Act, which was created in part to concerns that many American men had been rejected from World War II military service because of diet-related health problems. The purpose of the program was to provide a market for agricultural production and to improve the health and well-being of the nation’s youth. A few years later, the Agricultural Act of 1949 allowed certain donated commodities acquired through price-support operations by the Commodity Credit Corporation available for distribution to school lunch programs, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and local public welfare organizations serving needy people.
In the 1960s and 1970s, several more programs were created that were designed to meet the food needs of specific segments of the population, including the School Breakfast Program, the Nutrition Program for the Elderly (now the Nutrition Services Incentive Program), and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
In 1981, The Emergency Food Assistance Program was created to supplement the diets of low-income Americans, including the elderly. In 1988, the Soup Kitchen/Food Banks Program was established to aid the homeless population in the United States. These programs were merged in 1996 with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, also known as Welfare Reform.
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provides food and improves nutrition for low-income Americans. Through a number of programs, it distributes surplus agricultural products to schools, day-care centers, and individual households. The agency also reimburses institutions such as schools for meals provided to FNS participants. Through a regulated food pyramid, the agency seeks to improve the vitamin, mineral, and overall nutritional content in the foods of low-income people. Major FNS programs include:
Formerly the Food Stamp Program, SNAP provides eligible households with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that can be used to purchase food at approved stores nationwide. SNAP is meant to be the “first line of defense against hunger.” The program is also intended to ease the transition from welfare to work. Eligibility is based on income and assets and stipulates that all able-bodied persons between 16-60 register for work, participate in employment training programs, and accept suitable employment. With a FY 2011 proposed budget allocation of $68 billion, SNAP is the largest-funded program at the FNS.
The CACFP provides meals to those who qualify in child and adult day care programs, as well as to eligible children in after school programs and emergency shelters. The program donates agricultural commodities to participating institutions and offers cash reimbursements to institutions for meals served to qualified participants. In FY 2009, the CACFP served a total of 1.9 billion meals to children and adults. It is the responsibility of participating institutions to determine eligibility.
The CSFP provides commodity foods and administrative funding to states. The states use food and funds to improve the diets of low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women; their infants and children up to age six; and qualified persons aged 60 and older. Local agencies then distribute food and provide nutritional education, as well as referrals to additional welfare, nutrition, and health-care programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.
The FADR provides assistance to those affected by a disaster through distribution of commodity foods to shelters and other assistance sites, distribution of foods directly to households, and authorizing state agencies to issue emergency food stamps.
The FDPIR provides food commodities to qualified participants living on or near Indian reservations. The program is an alternative to the Food Stamp Program for those living in remote areas with limited access to food stamp offices or authorized food stores. Eligibility is based on federally designated income and resource standards and requires annual recertification.
WIC provides supplemental foods, nutrition education, and health and social services referrals to eligible pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, and their children up to age five. In most states, WIC issues participants monthly checks or vouchers for the purchase of foods meant to supplement their diets with specific nutrients, such as iron and vitamin C. WIC operates in all 50 states, providing services through county health departments, hospitals, mobile clinics, community centers, schools, public housing sites, and Indian reservations.
The FMNP provides WIC participants with coupons to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs at approved farmers’ markets and roadside fruit and vegetable stands. It is meant to improve the diets of WIC participants, as well as to expand the sales and use of local farmers’ markets. A similar program is available for seniors, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
The NSLP seeks to provide nutritionally balanced lunches to schoolchildren. It provides USDA commodity foods and cash reimbursements to state agencies for meals distributed to children through school districts.
The NABG provides food assistance to eligible households by funding block grants to territories to fund their own nutrition assistance programs. It acts in lieu of SNAP in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Selected low-income elementary schools across the nation are provided with fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost via this program. The purpose of the FFVP is to increase consumption of these foods while attempting to reduce childhood obesity through implementation of improved, healthy dietary habits.
From the Web Site of the Food and Nutrition Service
In addition to the low-income people Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) serves, the most vested stakeholders associated with the FNS are those in the agricultural industry, and its affiliated industries. The agricultural industry is subsidized when the government purchases surplus foods and distributes them through FNS commodity distribution and other programs.
The FNS distributed nearly $173 billion in grants from 2002-2011, according to USAspending.gov. It has also distributed $554 million in contracts from 2002-2011.
Top recipients and their percent of total contracting are:
1. Mathematica Inc. $50,261,632 (9.07%)
2. Omnicom Group Inc. $41,294,849 (7.45%)
3. ABT Associates Inc. $30,308,882 (5.47%)
4. Acusys Inc. $23,052,596 (4.16%)
5. Bearingpoint Inc. $22,648,349 (4.09%)
Republicans Keep Lid on Cost of Providing School Food Service
Republican lawmakers tried in 2011 to derail the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) revamping of food served to students in schools, while at the same time capping new costs associated with any related reforms.
The GOP opposed new guidelines for school lunch and breakfast programs overseen by FNS (see related Controversy). What Republicans favored was throwing out the new standards (which no longer considered tomato sauce on pizza to be a vegetable) developed by Democrats and making the FNS start over from scratch. Also, GOP politicians wanted to prevent any changes in school nutrition programs from becoming a fiscal burden on local governments or struggling Americans.
The USDA estimated that its proposed standards would raise the cost of breakfast per student per day by 50 cents and lunch by 14 cents.
Representative Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) said in a letter to her colleagues: “USDA acknowledges that these huge cost increases would be borne by states and localities—most likely through increased meal prices for middle income families and through cuts to existing educational programs.…The federal government cannot reasonably expect school districts to bear this additional funding burden at a time when state and local school budgets are being cut across the country.”
Showdown Looms In House Over Public School Lunches (by Julian Pecquet, The Hill)
House Debates Cost of Ag Bill (by Marc Heller, Watertown Daily Times)
Outsourcing School Lunches
Many school districts have outsourced kitchen duties to private companies, which proponents say saves money and allows educators to focus on their primary responsibility of educating. Money is saved through streamlined operations and bulk purchasing. Advocates also hold that food service management companies are better than cafeteria employees in consistently providing nutritious well-balanced meals. Critics contend that districts are equally able to manage food service while retaining the profits of successful operations inside the school districts. They point to districts’ ability to buy in bulk and hire consultants who can educate food preparers on nutrition and efficiency. Critics of outsourcing also question the human cost of outsourcing to private firms, such as the tendency of some firms to cut costs by implementing practices that avoid hiring full-time employees in order to avoid paying benefits.
The Debate Over Food Service: Private vs. Public Management (by Ronald B. Riegel, School Administrator)
Hallmark/Westland Meat Recall
In early 2008, megalith meat packer Hallmark/Westland was exposed for abusing cows in their plant. The company was exposed by an undercover investigator with the Humane Society, who was employed by Hallmark/Westland. The investigator shot secret video showing workers prodding “downed” cattle with electric rods, ramming them with a forklift, and shooting high-powered water streams up their noses in an attempt to get them to stand for slaughter. Downed cattle are prohibited from the food supply as the risk of infection, contamination and disease is heightened with lame animals. This particular incident was troubling for the FNS, as much of the meat from Hallmark/Westland is slated for its programs, including the National School Lunch Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Westland is the second largest supplier of beef for the National School Lunch Program and was even named “supplier of the year” by the Agriculture Department in 2004-2005. Following the story, these products were placed on hold, and 143 million pounds of beef was recalled—the largest beef recall in U.S. history. The recall included beef products dating back to February 2006. Sen. Tom Harkin criticized the USDA for an inadequate job of inspections.
Video of workers abusing cows raises food safety questions (by Kathy Benz, CNN)
The FNS School Lunch Reforms
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) created an uproar in 2011 when it proposed substantial changes to food being served in school lunch programs across the country.
FNS officials sought to revise the “meal pattern and nutritional requirements” for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program that called for cutting down on “carby” vegetables in favor of green and orange ones. Reducing the amount of French fries and white flour consumed by children was another major goal of the plan.
To accomplish this, the new rules would limit the consumption of white potatoes, corn, peas, and lima beans to a combined one cup per week. The plan also expanded the presence of sweet potatoes and steamed carrots on lunch plates.
Some critics noted increasing the use of sweet potatoes was puzzling given that they have twice the calories and 15% more sugar than white potatoes.
Congressman Paul Brown (R-Georgia) said the new rules were less about improving children’s health and more about expanding government’s power.
“Biggest Loser” Meets “1984” In USDA School Lunch Reform (By Joyce Cordi, Reimagine America)
Tales Of The Red Tape #21: USDA’s Affirmative Action For Vegetables (By Diane Katz, The Foundry)
USDA Official Joins Georgia Students For Breakfast As Kids Head Back To School (Food And Nutrition Service)
USDA Announces Historic School Nutrition Improvements As Children Return To School (Food And Nutrition Service)
Some have pointed to administrative reform as the most potent measure of welfare reform, particularly in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program). Current administrative procedures are prohibitive for many low-income working families, as assessment meetings are scheduled during working hours, and it is difficult for workers to take this time off. In addition, low-income jobs are often characterized by frequent changes in hours, and often job changes themselves. This makes tracking these changes for FSP qualification difficult, paperwork intensive, and time consuming. The Brookings Institution argues that confirming income levels at six-month intervals could relieve this problem. Also beneficial would be for the federal system to relieve its micromanagement of the states that dispense benefits. This would allow states flexibility in operating within own their unique conditions and reduce the burden of paperwork for both individuals and government.
The U.S. Federal Food Stamp Program and Its Relationship to Welfare Reform (by Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution)
The FNS finds itself at the center of ideological battles that question the role of the state in dealing with poverty and welfare, as well as business and subsidies. It is a complex debate that questions the causes and persistence of poverty. Compounding these questions are disagreements over how hunger and poverty are defined and quantified. Often, the debate falls along party lines.
Opinion from the Right
Conservative opinions of poverty tend to reflect ideals of choice and personal responsibility. This view sees the poor as architects of their condition. To the right, welfare programs reward laziness and encourage dependence. The Heritage Foundation reports that the majority of households receiving food stamps are headed by young able-bodied adults, 70% of whom do not work. The report also found that the “typical” non-elderly recipient has received benefits for more than seven years. Welfare programs hurt both the poor and society because they engender dependence, discourage ambition, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty, the report found.
Food Stamp Program is Outdated (by Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation)
The Poverty of Welfare: Helping Others in Civil Society (by Michael Tanner, Independent Institute)
Opinion from the Left
Meanwhile, liberals focus on societal and systemic causes for poverty, such as disproportionate advantages and opportunities given to the middle class and wealthy. Many on the left see poverty as a societal creation and therefore a responsibility of government. Welfare programs are necessary to the marriage of capitalism and democracy, and welfare programs correct for market failures and redistribute wealth, allowing all members of democracy to be engaged in political and economic processes, many liberals argue.
Food Stamp Program: Program Integrity and Participation Challenges (Government Accountability Office) (pdf)
Julie Paradis (May 2009-April 2011)
Called out of retirement to head the Food and Nutrition Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in May 2009, Julie Paradis is a longtime lawyer specializing in agricultural issues who divided her 30-year career between Congress and the USDA.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Paradis attended college at the University of Houston, where she received her Bachelors of Arts in psychology. She then went to law school at the University of Texas. After passing the Texas Bar, Paradis began her career in 1979 as a staff attorney in the USDA’s Office of General Counsel’s Food and Nutrition Division, where she specialized in the Food Stamp Program. Four years later she was promoted to senior attorney in the Legislative Division of the Office of the General Counsel.
In 1989, Paradis moved to Capitol Hill to become staff director of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations, and Nutrition. She rose to assistant majority counsel for the House Agriculture Committee by 1991, providing legal support for the reauthorization of the National School Lunch Act and the Mickey Leland Childhood Hunger Relief Act.
In 1995, Paradis became deputy counsel of the minority staff of the House Agriculture Committee, overseeing legislation on such matters as nutrition and domestic feeding programs. She then returned to the USDA in 1997, becoming Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. She was responsible for policy and program development for the 15 federal nutrition assistance programs, including Food Stamps, school meals, and commodity donations.
With the arrival of the Bush administration in January 2001, Paradis left the USDA to become Senior Washington Counsel for America’s Second Harvest (currently known as Feeding America), the nation’s largest organization of emergency food providers, comprised of 215 regional food banks and food recovery organizations serving 50,000 local food pantries and soup kitchens. She retired in October 2006. Outside of government, Paradis has served on the board of directors of the Coalition on Human Needs.
Enrique Gomez, Acting Administrator (January 2009-May 2009)
Roberto Salazar (April 2002-October 2008)
In 2010, Salazar became a Senior Advisor at the Library of Congress, where he provides expert guidance and support on management matters associated with Library-wide programs related to diversity awareness.
Salazar grew up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and graduated from New Mexico Highlands University in 1998 with a BA degree in Business Administration, concentrated in management and finance. From 1995 to 1998, Salazar was the Director of the New Mexico Human Services Department Child Support Enforcement and Income Support Division. In that position he administered the Food Stamp, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Programs. With the department in turmoil, Salazar resigned in 1998 and became the Executive Director of the Hispanic Radio network.
Also in New Mexico, Salazar served as policy adviser to Governor Gary Johnson, and from 1998-2001 as Director of Science and Technology for the state. He was the Director of the USDA’s Rural Development State Office in New Mexico, prior to his 2002 appointment to Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service.
On April 1, 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with the approval of President Barack Obama, appointed Dr. Janey Thornton the next Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services administers programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps), the Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the school meals programs.
Called out of retirement to head the Food and Nutrition Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Julie Paradis is a longtime lawyer specializing in agricultural issues who divided her 30-year career between Congress and the USDA.
Outside of government, Paradis has served on the board of directors of the