Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Democrats criticize USDA for giving food-box delivery program contracts to inexperienced distributors

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is facing increasing criticism from Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee for awarding contracts for its food-box delivery program to poorly vetted distributors, the Food & Environment Reporting Network reports. The recent coronavirus relief bill allocated $3 billion for the government to buy products from farmers and distribute them to food banks and similar non-profits. USDA recently announced it will accomplish that through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, and has awarded $1.2 billion in contracts thus far.

Some distributors who got large contracts appeared to have little experience with large-scale food distribution, including a Texas wedding and event planner who was awarded a $39 million contract after making dubious claims about credentials, FERN reports. USDA also awarded a $40 million contract, now canceled, to a small California produce company that sells avocados online.

Three leaders of House Agriculture subcommittees (Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Jim Costa of California, and Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands) asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to explain his decisions, and why contracts were awarded to distributors without the proper experience: "At a time when the farm economy continues to suffer and families across the country face increasing food insecurity, it is our shared goal that this program fulfill its stated mission to support the domestic agriculture industry and provide critical assistance to families in need."

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