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article imageUSDA's Farmers to Families Food Box program under review

By Karen Graham     Feb 23, 2021 in Politics
With President Biden in the White House, many policies enacted by the previous administration are being targeted for extinction. But farmers groups and anti-hunger advocates are ready to fight to keep the USDA's Farmers to Families Food Box program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began the Farmers to Families Food Box program last April after many people were shocked to see farmers destroy crops because restaurants and institutions abruptly canceled orders due to the virus even as food banks were crushed by demand from people suddenly out of work.
Within weeks, the USDA had paid nearly $3 billion to contractors who worked with food banks across the country which began handing out boxes filled with 20 pounds of produce to long lines of people left jobless and desperate for food to feed their families. The "family-sized" boxes contained produce, dairy products, and/or meat.
Images of the long lines, sometimes winding across parking lots or around the block in towns and cities brought the food insecurity problem caused by the coronavirus pandemic into thousands of living rooms across the nation. “Hunger is always with us, but it was more apparent with those photos,” said Mark Herrick, a USDA spokesman.
The program was announced on April 15, 2020, and is part of the government's general response to the pandemic, called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program run by the USDA. According to the program's home page, over 70,000,000 boxes were invoiced between the start date and the end of August.
As of February 23, 2021, USDA contractors have delivered 139,396,581 boxes of fresh produce, milk, dairy and cooked meats to disadvantaged Americans across the country.
In the current fifth round of purchases, USDA will purchase up to $1.5 billion worth of food for delivery through the end of April. The additional funding for the program was included in the COVID-19 relief package as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed December 21, 2020.
By December 2020, close to 50 million Americans were experiencing food insecurity. And after this final round of purchases ends in April, the USDA will reassess the program and make a decision on whether to continue the aid.
However, the United Fresh Produce Association, an industry group, and food bank officials have been working on recommendations that could continue the program possibly even beyond the pandemic.
But Carrie Calvert, a vice president of Feeding America, a Chicago-based network of 200 food banks, points out that the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, provides nine times the total amount of food distributed by all food banks.
Calvert says the SNAP program is the most effective way of providing for people in need of assistance. But the bottom line is that the decision to continue the food box distribution will lie with President Biden’s Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack expected to be confirmed February 23.
United Fresh Produce Association has formed a working group to advise USDA as it makes decisions on the future of the food box program. So it is possible that something will be worked out to continue the successful program,
More about Farmers to Families food box, coronavirus pandemic, SNAP program, USDA
 
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