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Controversy in Congress Over USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program

07/22/2020

The Farmers to Families Food Box Program was initiated in haste to resolve waste on farms due to the collapse of the food service segment of the supply chain extending from farms to consumers. Additional justifications were to provide food for needy people and to support food distributors idled by COVID-related shutdowns.

 

The $3 billion program involved 200 contractors who purchased surplus food at the farm level, packaged it and delivered it to food banks and non-profits for distribution. The program aimed at delivering 40 million boxes valued at $30 each by June 30th.  The USDA confirmed delivery of 43.6 million boxes by Tuesday, July 21st.

 

Greg Ibach, Undersecretary of Agriculture noted at a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing that "we wanted to be able to get food out.  Our goal is to get food circulating in the system, try to stabilize prices for farmers, to stop wasting our food to moving it as we fed families".  Ibach acknowledged that "the program was imperfect in its design, but I think our goal and intent was pure and I hope noble".

 

Evaluation of the program was split along party lines.  Rep. Marcia Fudge commented "this program is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse".  She added "we have no idea what you were doing nor do you because you can't answer questions as to who is getting the food?  Are you paying for somebody to really give it to people that should have it?"  In contrast, farm-state Republicans accepted that food boxes were a success.  Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) stated, "more has gone right than wrong in food distribution in the past few months".  He added "whatever the error rate may be it is much offset by the speed in allowing us to get food to people". 

 

The USDA could have improved the image of the program by providing details on the composition of boxes, who received them and the criteria for selection of participants and the contents of boxes. It is regretted that eggs were not included in the boxes since the nutritional value would have been enhanced relative to cost. It is understood that refrigeration was a restraint to including perishables in boxes