Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Food banks benefit from Trump's trade-aid program for farmers, but have trouble refrigerating all that milk

Food banks all over the country are stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and beans because of a federal program that helps farmers hurt by the trade war with China.

Most of last year's $12 billion Department of Agriculture program was for farmers, but it included $1.2 billion to buy surplus commodities and distribute them to food banks, schools, and other places that serve low-income people. The program was expanded and extended this year, for a total of $16 billion in aid with $1.4 billion of that going to food banks, April Simpson reports for Stateline.

Food-bank leaders say the program has helped them provide healthy food for their clients, but said maintaining and distributing fresh food has meant unexpected expenses. A huge increase of liquid milk donations, for example, has triggered headaches for food banks as they try to figure out how to keep it refrigerated. And "critics say donating food to the needy is merely a beneficial side effect of the aid program and won’t put a substantial dent in food waste or hunger," Simpson reports.

"That combination of trade war and additional food for food banks is not the policy mix I would have recommended," Tufts University food economist Parke Wilde told Simpson. "It’s better to have a fairly well-functioning trade policy and less need for mitigation for food banks."

The federal government, along with some state governments, are trying to increase farmer donations to food pantries in other ways. The 2018 Farm Bill designated $20 million over the next five years to create a farm-to-food bank program, and at least eight states give farmers tax credits for donating agricultural products to food banks, Simpson reports.

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