USDA announced Friday an investment of up to $1 billion, including $500 million in American Rescue Plan funding, in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to support and expand the emergency food network so food banks and local organizations can reliably serve their communities.
Under Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, USDA halted the Farmers to Families Food Box program but will build on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic as it enters 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.
“Now is the time to apply lessons learned from food assistance activities early in the pandemic to improve how USDA purchases food and supports on-the-ground organizations with TEFAP. We will put special emphasis on reaching rural, remote and underserved communities, local and regional food systems and socially disadvantaged farmers,” Vilsack says.
In the coming months, USDA will make a series of additional investments under its new “Build Back Better” initiative focused on building a better food system. USDA says 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, USDA explains.
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew welcomed that action that pairs a strong federal nutrition program with an emphasis on fresh and local foods. “By strengthening the nutrition safety net, the Biden administration’s initiative would help mitigate our hunger crisis – while also offering farmers more options for distributing the food they grow. Both of these results will take us a few steps further on the path to pandemic recovery and to a food system that serves farmers and eaters alike,” Larew says.
Emergency food assistance
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will purchase $500 million in nutritious, domestically produced food for state food bank networks through TEFAP. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and AMS will work collaboratively with states to distribute the food to TEFAP providers.
USDA will purchase food from registered vendors for nationwide distribution. Small business, women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned setasides during the solicitation process will provide an enhanced opportunity for USDA-registered small businesses to submit competitive bids. This funding will continue to support demand from states for the new TEFAP Fresh Produce offering, USDA says.
FNS will administer a new grant program aimed at helping food assistance organizations meet TEFAP requirements, strengthen infrastructure and expand their reach into rural, remote and low-income communities.
This grant program incorporates lessons learned from the Farmers to Families Food Box program. It can help states, local organizations and former food box groups participate in each state’s emergency food network and help pantries build capacity for storage and refrigeration. These grants will help support organizations supporting underserved communities and communities of color, USDA says.
House Agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chairwoman Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., says this announcement from USDA is “key and showcases efforts that bolster food bank networks and improve the use of local food systems as necessary solutions to protect those who are food insecure and at the edges of a fragile economic recovery.”
Socially disadvantaged farmer assistance
AMS will establish cooperative agreements with state and tribal governments or other local entities to purchase food for the food bank network from local and regional producers (within a state or within 400 miles) and from socially disadvantaged producers.
AMS will use innovative approaches to ensure these agreements facilitate relationships between farmers, ranchers and producers and local and regional food systems, the agency notes.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., says he’s particularly pleased to see the critical investment in $400 million that will support socially disadvantaged farmers at a local and regional level. “These partnerships with farmers and food banks will ensure that the programs feeding communities are supporting their own local agricultural systems,” Scott says.