In her time working for the United States Department of Agriculture as the Assistant Secretary of Food and Consumer Services, Catherine Bertini directed thirteen domestic food assistance programs for poor Americans, including the Food Stamp, School Lunch and Breakfast programs, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The programs reached one in every six Americans with a combined budget of approximately $33 billion per year. As a member of the sub-cabinet, Bertini was responsible for the management of the programs and for over 2000 Federal staff. The position involved negotiation with members of congress, state-elected and appointed officials, other federal agency representatives, and outreach to advocacy groups.
Assistant Secretary of Food and Consumer Services | 1989 – 1992
Catherine Bertini was nominated by President George H. W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate in 1989. She helped implement an Electronic Benefit Transfer system for Food Stamps and other welfare benefits, proposing changes in federal law to authorize this program. These changes were passed by Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill, and Catherine Bertini chaired the interagency task force charged with implementing the changes. All states now use this system. She also helped increase the monitoring capability for investigating allegations of food stamp misuse.
Catherine Bertini also created and implemented, by changing federal regulations, a new WIC food package for mothers breast-feeding their children. She established and chaired the National Breast Feeding Promotion Consortium, made up of relevant associations, agencies, and non-governmental groups. As a result of her regulations and activities, the incidence of breast-feeding among low-income American mothers increased.
In addition to all of the above, Bertini expanded the number of schools offering school breakfasts and promoted the availability of this program to state and school district administrators. She also promoted the use of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid to promote healthy diets.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
While working for the department of Health and Human Services, Catherine Bertini was responsible for managing programs and developing policy for the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. After the passage of the Family Support Act of 1988, she was responsible for writing the regulations to implement welfare reform. In 1989, she managed the Child Support Enforcement, Refugee Resettlement and Community Services programs, as well as the AFDC program. Bertini was appointed by Secretary of HHS Dr. Otis Bower during the Reagan Administration, and served at HHS in the Bush administration until moving to USDA.
- Creating the requirement for serious education and training for beneficiaries of the Job Opportunity and Basics Skills Training Program in an effort to help women graduate from the need to receive welfare assistance
- Managing the process for writing new welfare reform regulations by listening to advocacy groups and associations wishing to participate in the process
- Specifically cited women in federal law by issuing regulations for the Family Support Act that used the pronoun "she" rather than "he" to refer to AFDC beneficiaries, as 90+ percent were women. This was the first use of the feminine pronoun in federal law when referring to women and men.
- Honored by American Public Welfare Association "in recognition of her positive contribution to human services and her work on behalf of poor and disadvantaged children and their families.