The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Box program will soon be coming to an end. Launched by the Trump administration law year, the program has since provided more than 150 million food boxes to communities across the country. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently spoke on the issue during a recent hearing with the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Representative David Valadao asked why USDA would be ending a program that had provided support for farmers and ranchers in addressing food insecurity needs.
“We’re going to continue to provide healthy food but we’re going to do it through the most efficient system that we have,” Vilsack told the subcommittee. “We’re going to try to take what we’ve learned at the best of that program and incorporate it into our traditional, regular programs which are very efficient in terms of food distribution. That way I think you get the best of both worlds.”
USDA has indicated that May will be the last month for the Farmers to Families Food Box program. Vilsack pointed out that the program existed entirely as a response to disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the program addressed multiple areas of need, there had been some concerns related to how it was administered.
“There was significant difference of administrative costs. In some cases, people were charged a tremendous amount just to fill the boxes,” Vilsack explained. “There was inadequate accounting of where the boxes were actually delivered. There was a lot of food waste and loss that we uncovered as a result of these listening sessions.”
Looking ahead Vilsack believes existing and emerging programs will be able to fill the role that the Farmers to Families Food Box program served. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will be expanding the Emergency Food Assistance Program through Congressional funding made available for pandemic assistance. There are also plans to develop a Dairy Donation Program to reimburse producers donating to nonprofits.