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Jun 7, 2021
USDA pledges fresh produce program boost; United Fresh responds

USDA announced June 4 an investment of up to $1 billion, including $500 million in American Rescue Plan funding, in The Emergency Food Assistance Program   to support and expand the emergency food network so food banks and local organizations can reliably serve their communities.

According to a USDA news release, building on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA will enter into cooperative agreements with state, tribal and local entities to more efficiently purchase food from local producers and invest in infrastructure that enables partner organizations to more effectively reach underserved communities.

In the coming months, USDA will make a series of additional investments under the Build Back Better initiative focused on building a better food system. Build Back Better efforts will improve access to nutritious food, address racial injustice and inequity as well as a changing climate, provide ongoing support for producers and workers, and create a more resilient food system.

The announcement of up to $1 billion will help resolve lingering challenges directly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and start addressing long-term challenges to our nation’s food system exposed by the pandemic.

Statement from United Fresh’s SVP of Policy, Robert Guenther, on USDA’s announcement on Addressing Food Insecurity

“United Fresh Produce Association and our members appreciate USDA’s continued efforts to ensure the most vulnerable among us have adequate access to food. We also share the Secretary’s commitment to address nutrition insecurity and, accordingly, are concerned that this proposal falls short of providing sufficient access to fresh produce to meet that goal.

 “Over the past year, we have learned much about how federal food purchasing can work better when parameters are put in place that frees USDA to prioritize factors like access to a wide variety of fresh produce sourced from a diverse set of growers (including small and regional) and expanding the emergency feeding network to be more inclusive of credible nonprofits that can address the unique needs of local communities, including rural and historically marginalized populations. At its peak, USDA was purchasing nearly six million boxes per week, featuring more than 100 types of fresh produce commodities, and utilizing a local distribution network of more than 11,000 community nonprofits, including TEFAP agencies. While well intentioned, the TEFAP Fresh Produce Program as currently implemented follows an antiquated model that cannot meet the full potential in addressing nutrition insecurity.

Quite frankly, the evolution of emergency food purchasing that moved away from USDA’s traditional food purchase programs during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be ignored or dismissed. USDA has an enormous opportunity to procure the foods that will help individuals meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendations to make half the plate fruits and vegetables. We know that this administration is committed to increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and we remain hopeful that together we can work to make this vision a reality.”

USDA sends appreciation letter to Farmers to Families Food Box partners

The letter appears to spell the official end of the program, which distributed more than 173 million boxes.

“As the Farmers to Families Food Box Program comes to an end, we want to again thank you for your support and partnership in this effort. The program distributed more than 173 million boxes to date.

“It provided relief to producers, redirected meat, milk, dairy and produce that would have otherwise gone to waste and supplied nutritious food to countless people in need during challenging stages of the pandemic.

“First and foremost, this was an emergency relief effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the continuing economic recovery and stimulus funding provided by Congress, assistance needs are changing.

“To keep pace with those changing needs, and incorporating lessons learned through emergency relief efforts, USDA has adapted its programs and is now providing billions in additional aid directly to struggling households through a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits, SNAP emergency allotments, and Pandemic EBT.

“In addition, to address summer hunger, we anticipate that states will issue nearly $13 billion in summer P-EBT benefits to families whose children qualify for free and reduced priced meals. We have also continued to provide additional funding to the emergency food bank network through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which we aim to expand in the coming days.

“During the pandemic, many of you witnessed first-hand the challenges in our food system as you worked to distribute food in a time of crisis.

“We now have an opportunity to address long-standing issues in the U.S. food system by building it back better. In the coming months, USDA will make a series of investments under the new Build Back Better initiative to improve access to nutritious food, address racial justice and equity as well as a changing climate, provide ongoing support for producers and workers, and create greater resiliency in the food system.

“The first round of Build Back Better funding will serve as a critical bridge between lingering concerns directly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and long-term challenges to our nation’s food system exposed by the pandemic. We look forward to launching those efforts very soon.

“One of the key lessons learned from the distribution of the Farmers to Families food boxes is there are thousands of organizations across the country who are not part of their state’s local emergency food distribution network – either as a TEFAP distributor or otherwise.

“These organizations stepped forward at a critical time and helped to distribute food to their communities, expanding the reach of federal food assistance. For those who are interested in making food distribution a more regular part of your direct service operations, we encourage you to join the TEFAP network by applying to be a vendor or a TEFAP local agency to assist with food distribution to those in need. USDA will support our state partners’ efforts to strengthen their existing programs and expand their networks.

“Finally, we ask that you share this letter with your partners who participated in these emergency relief efforts this past year – from the producers and vendors, to the distributors, transporters, food bank organizers and local volunteers on the front line.

“We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the nation’s food security and we hope to continue working with you through these new programs.”

 


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