Public and Private Efforts To Feed America's Poor

Gao ID: RCED-83-164 June 23, 1983

In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the Nation's economic climate and its impact on food assistance needs; (2) some of the efforts occurring at Federal, State, local, and private levels to meet these needs, including the channeling of surplus food to the poor and hungry; and (3) some of the impediments which inhibit a more effective and efficient food assistance system.

GAO noted that an accurate assessment of the extent of U.S. hunger and malnutrition does not exist. However, significant increases in the numbers of people seeking food assistance during the past few years have been reported. The task of providing food assistance to the Nation's poor is one which is shared by Federal, State, and local governments and the private sector. The funding levels of Federal food programs have increased at an average annual rate of 26 percent since 1969, and some fear exists that fiscal restraint is having a serious impact on the poor. The private sector has increased its share of food assistance by establishing many new emergency food centers and expanding older ones. In recent years, new Federal and State laws have encouraged, through financial incentives and reduced liability, greater involvement by the food industry in helping to meet the food needs of the poor. Many of the 33 emergency food centers GAO visited reported a need for more funds and problems regarding: (1) insufficient transportation, equipment, and fuel; (2) inadequate storage space; and (3) a need for more staff. The food centers have also been experiencing a lack of coordination and a need for greater quantities and varieties of food in the Department of Agriculture's special cheese and butter distribution program. Finally, GAO found that no analysis has been made of the Federal food programs' overall effectiveness, the amount of food wasted annually, or the relationship between the Federal and private networks of food programs.

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