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Duplication and wasteful spending in federal welfare programs are targets near and dear to Rep. Jim Jordan.
The Ohio Republican chairs an influential group, the Republican Study Committee. The group’s political beliefs generally intersect with those of the Tea Party, and they include a desire to stop wasteful government spending.
Toward that end, Jordan called a hearing of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, which he chairs, to talk about potential duplication in federal welfare programs.
Reading his opening remarks, Jordan touched on a General Accounting Office recommendation that more study is needed on the effectiveness of the federal programs.
"They found that only seven of 18 federal food assistance programs have been associated with positive health and nutrition outcomes," Jordan said, "while the remaining 11 have not been effective."
PolitiFact Ohio decided to take a look. Were nearly two-thirds of the food assistance programs really deemed ineffective?
We started with a GAO report, released in March 2011, that identified 34 areas where agencies, offices, or initiatives have similar or overlapping objectives or provide similar services. The areas spanned the federal government, touching on programs in agriculture, defense, economic development, energy, general government, health, homeland security, international affairs, and social services.
In some cases, the report said, financial benefits ranging from hundreds of millions to several billion dollars annually could be realized by improving efficiency and eliminating duplication.
Eighteen programs, most of them overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spent more than $62.5 billion on domestic food and nutrition assistance in fiscal year 2008. Programs' spending ranged from $4 million for the smallest program to more than $37 billion for the largest.
The system of programs works to ensures that millions of low-income people are adequately fed. The GAO found that the system "shows signs of overlap and inefficent use of resources."
During the hearing, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland Democrat who is the oversight committee’s ranking member, told Jordan he would support more study but not cuts in benefits. (See related PolitiFact item)
The GAO "did not find waste, fraud and abuse in the administration and delivery of these programs," Kucinich said. "It does not recommend delivering fewer benefits to those in need."
Jordan said the GAO report left the question of whether the programs are working. What the report did not say that 11 of 18 programs were not effective.
Jordan’s press secretary, Meghan Snyder, acknowledged that his characterization of the 11 programs as ineffective "was a misstatement. It should have been 'have not been shown to be effective.' "
She quoted the pertinent statement in the GAO report: "Little is known about the effectiveness of the remaining 11 programs because they have not been well studied."
That's an important distinction. Nothing can fairly be said about the effectiveness of programs that have not been evaluated.
Jordan's point was that the programs do need to be studied, Snyder said. Language she cited from the report shows the GAO would agree: "As part of its broader recommendation, GAO suggested that USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) consider which of the lesser-studied programs need further research, and USDA agreed to consider the value of examining potential inefficiencies and overlap among smaller programs."
Where does that leave us?
The first part of Jordan's statement, part of remarks he read at the hearing, was correct in that seven of 18 food assistance programs were associated with positive health and nutrition outcomes.
But the second part of his claim, that other 11 were found to be ineffective, was inaccurate. To his credit, his office readily acknowledged the mistake. But a tenet of PolitiFact is that words matter, and in this case, a part of his remarks made in a formal hearing was inaccurate.
His underlying point -- that more assessment of the programs is needed -- is buttressed by the GAO report.
With half the statement on point but the other half off target, on the Truth-O-Meter his claim rates as Half True.
CQ Transcripts, "House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory
Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending holds hearing on federal welfare program duplications and efficiencies, June 1, 2011
Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, "Duplication, Overlap, and Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs," Part 1and Part 2, June 1, 2011
The Hill, "Oversight hearing examines emotional welfare reform issue," June 1, 2011
Government Accountability Office, "Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue," March 2011
Government Accountability Office, "Domestic Food Assistance: Complex System Benefits Millions, but Additional Efforts Could Address Potential Inefficiency and Overlap among Smaller Programs," April 15, 2010
House of Representatives, 112th Congress, Bill Summary & Status, H.R. 1167
PolitiFact Ohio, "Rep. Dennis Kucinich says one-quarter of residents qualify for emergency food in 70 of Ohio's 88 counties," June 24, 2011
Email from Meghan Snyder, press secretary to Rep. Jordan, June 28, 2011
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