House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Introduced the Fresh Food Supply Reform Act today, September 21, which would essentially revive the Farmers to Families Food program. The Trump administration’s box for fresh produce that Democrats criticized when then Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue established it.
The bill would require the USDA to partner with growers, distributors and food hubs to supply fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the United States to community organizations such as schools, local pantries and organizations. youth, while giving priority to farmers and socially disadvantaged entities, to regional food inequalities. , and local and regional food systems.
The bill only covers fresh produce, not meat and dairy products which were also part of the Trump-era agenda. The Trump administration initially set up the program to absorb products that would normally go to the restaurant industry, including restaurants, schools and universities, and to feed people who needed food during the pandemic. Farmers to Families distributed a total of 176 million boxes, said Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition at United Fresh today. Members know if something “good or bad” has happened in their districts, she said.
“Throughout 2020, USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program was successful in connecting healthy fruits and vegetables from our country’s farmers to hungry families who needed it most,” DeLauro said in a statement. hurry. “I saw gratitude on the faces of so many families as I helped distribute boxes from Cecarelli’s Harrison Hill Farm to Common Ground High School in my district. Many of them will say that never before have they had access to fresh produce of such quality.
“That’s why I was disappointed with Secretary Vilsack’s decision to end the program,” DeLauro continued. “In my opinion, the program should have been strengthened and continued as a way to provide healthier food to families and as an investment in our local producers and our specialty crop producers, who are traditionally not supported by the ‘USDA. The bill would abandon the USDA’s low-cost supply model and instead require that priority be given to local food systems and regional inequalities. This bill is an important first step in leveraging USDA food purchases to drive significant reforms in our food system. “
DeLauro introduced the bill as the United Fresh Produce Association meets in Washington and its members travel to Capitol Hill to meet with members of the House and Senate.
Democrats have criticized the Farmers to Families Food Box program, often pointing to colorful examples of bad contractors and inefficiencies. The criticism was part of a dispute with Republicans over the benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Republicans have championed the food box program while Democrats have said the money should be spent on increasing SNAP benefits. The battle for a SNAP increase was settled by the Biden administration’s assessment of the Thrifty Food plan, which resulted in an increase in benefits. United Fresh officials urged members traveling to Capitol Hill to urge House members to co-sponsor DeLauro’s bill.
Van Lieu, who moderated a workshop at today’s meeting, said increasing SNAP benefits will help families participating in the program, but will not necessarily solve the problem of bringing in more low-income consumers. to eat healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables because these families still stretch SNAP dollars and produce is still relatively expensive. Democrats may have criticized the Trump agenda, but will be impressed that DeLauro, a progressive from Connecticut, introduced the bill, Van Lieu said.
The United Fresh Nutrition Workshop was attended by industry and non-profit groups, and the popularity of the food box program was evident. A series of speakers declared it to be one of the simplest and easiest to use nutrition programs ever established by the federal government.
Rayne Thompson, vice president of government relations and public policy at Sunkist and administrator of the USDA’s agricultural marketing department in the Obama administration, said it was easy to use because it mimicked the market rather than use normal public procurement procedures and audits. People who work, who wear decent clothes, come to the food bank after work to get food because the cost of living in California is so high, Thompson said.
Jack Baran, who worked for a St. Louis food bank before becoming business development manager at Ole Tyme Produce Inc. in St. Charles, Mo., said his company had never been involved in government contracts. but got involved in order to maintain its employees and help its producers. Now that the government has ended the program, nonprofits are buying the boxes of food. His company offers recipes to accompany unfamiliar foods, he added.
Sam Chasin, senior director of youth development, partnerships and policy for the YMCA of the United States, said the program has enabled the organization to help parents of poor children who receive meals at the Y in conjunction with its other programs.
Farmers to Families “served the new poor, stressed families facing new circumstances,” Chasin said.
Trevor Moe, senior director of partnership development at Save the Children, noted that his organization is known for its international work but also works in rural areas of the United States. In remote rural areas such as the Appalachians and Indian reservations, emergency food networks do not have storage facilities and typically distribute long-life foods. It is important, he said, to address the issue of transport to the “last mile” – the point of distribution to individuals. His organization moved 600,000 boxes of food worth $ 22 million, he said.
The comments were “incredible,” he said, adding that recipients said, “This program saved Thanksgiving.”
Critics said people could get produce through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), another USDA program, but Moe said it was not reaching rural America.
Melissa Dake, director of Operation Food Secure in Topeka, Kan., Told the audience that while national media showed people lined up in “miles of cars,” her organization was distributing food in towns across 1 000 inhabitants.
Van Lieu also noted that Congress supporters will want to ensure that local producers are involved and that United Fresh has worked with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to find local suppliers.
Van Lieu said the USDA spends relatively little on fresh produce compared to purchasing shelf life items, and Sunkist’s Thompson said the food box program has proven to be “the most effective model. to obtain volumes of fresh products “.
Now that the Biden administration has ended the program, House members could start hearing from voters that there are no boxes of food, a member of the public said.
“We know that demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is high at emergency food sites across the country, but the USDA’s supply infrastructure is not designed to buy and distribute a wide variety. of fresh fruits and vegetables, ”said Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh. a press release in which he thanked DeLauro for introducing the bill.
Other organizations supporting the DeLauro Bill include the Boys & Girls Club of America, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the American Heart Association, Save the Children, The Common Market, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Community Action Partnership. of Orange County, CA, and the Des Moines area religious council pantry.