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program integrity

Ensuring Program Integrity in the WIC Program

For more than 40 years, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has provided supplemental foods and nutrition services vital to the health and nutrition of vulnerable moms, newborns and young children. And throughout those four decades, we’ve had a long-standing history of working with WIC state agencies to ensure program resources and taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.

While a 2013 study found a relatively low rate of improper vendor payments, (representing less than 1.5 percent of WIC food expenses), FNS has and will continue to intervene when problems arise and to require state agencies to improve the integrity of their programs.

New Day, Same Mission: The Evolution of SNAP

This fall, USDA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which made the Food Stamp Program permanent.  In looking back over the past 50 years, there are two notable events in the program’s history that had a significant impact on the transformation of the original Food Stamp Program in 1964 to the program we know today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

First, the Food Stamp Act of 1977 was a major program milestone, because it established national eligibility standards for participation and eliminated the purchase requirement for food stamps.  The new standards meant that the amount of benefits a household received depended on the household’s size, income, and expenses, a standard that remains today.  The elimination of the purchase requirement meant that people received their benefits upfront, without the intermediary step of purchasing the food stamp first.  The Food Stamp Act of 1977, therefore, removed a major barrier to participation in the program while also ensuring that benefits would be targeted to those most in need.  As a result, the mission of the Food Stamp Program to mitigate the effects of poverty was strengthened.

FNS Uses Research to Protect Taxpayer Dollars

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, while ensuring that our program are effective and well managed.

For Federal nutrition assistance programs to succeed over the long term, they must operate with a high degree of integrity.  The American people expect and deserve nothing less.  At FNS, we use research and analysis to take a hard look at integrity in these programs, determine strengths and challenges, and shape innovations to continuously improve.

While fraud and errors are low in FNS programs, we assert that any level of either is unacceptable.  High-quality research is an integral component in our integrity efforts because it enables us to see where fraud and errors occur and identify ways to strengthen the programs against those challenges and track progress over time:

Serving Summer Meals Requires Hard Work and a Big Heart

As a public affairs specialist, promoting and publishing information about federal nutrition assistance programs to partners, media and the public is a key part of the job. But I don’t often get to see the real day-to-day operation of these programs. I have attended summer program kick-off events and visited other program sites for special events. But, I recently got another perspective. I accepted an offer from our regional Special Nutrition Programs branch to participate in a Summer Food Service Program review.

This cross-training experience provided a first-hand look at how the program works from the inside. I learned how our regional staff and state partners monitor sponsors and sites to make sure they are in compliance with rules and regulations to ensure program integrity and healthy summer meals for kids. Regional Food and Nutrition Service staff is responsible for program oversight and must conduct reviews of new private, non-profit sponsors and sites, often alongside the state agency. At last count, there were 17 of these new sponsors approved in Texas, with 61 new sites.