Friday, June 19, 2020

USDA expands food-box program as some states and Democrats say rural hungry and farmers aren’t benefiting

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending contracts for some high-performing vendors for its $3 billion food-box program that buys surplus meat, dairy and produce from farmers to distribute to food banks and similar programs.

USDA says vendors with have been awarded contracts for “another $1.16 billion worth of food boxes through Aug. 30, based on their performance so far in supplying the first $2.2 billion through the end of June. The department is also considering contracts for several vendors whose initial applications were rejected because of technical errors,” Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico’s Morning Agriculture. USDA said it chose not to extend some contracts because of concerns raised during audits or difficulties delivering the food boxes. While the program is broadly popular, the launch was hampered by delays, logistical gaps and concerns about several of the contractors with little experience in food distribution or less capacity than needed to handle multimillion-dollar contracts.”

Some states have complained that the program isn’t working well to meet its goal of helping farmers and the hungry. House Democrats wrote an open letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week saying they have “‘grave concerns’ that Virginia food banks are having difficulty receiving aid, especially in rural areas,” McCrimmon reports. “Similarly, Wisconsin lawmakers have questioned why experienced milk processors and distributors based in the dairy state received less than 1 percent of the funding to source dairy products and fluid milk.

USDA said Wednesday that it’s in the “final stages” of evaluating how and where to expand the program in under-served areas, McCrimmon reports.

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