Rosa L. DeLauro

07/31/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/31/2020 16:29

DeLauro, Fudge, and Bustos Urge USDA Secretary to Stop Proposed Changes to Farmers to Families Food Box Program

Proposed Changes Mirror Administration's Flawed 'Harvest Box' Proposal, Eliminate Eligibility for Farmers, and Threaten Access for Families

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11), and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17)sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to stop proposed changes to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

'We write out of concern for the Department of Agriculture's proposed changes to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program and to urge you to stop implementation until the Department appropriately seeks public input on how these changes will impact farmers and families who access the program,' wrote Congresswomen DeLauro, Fudge, and Bustos. 'Until then, USDA should continue to award contracts to farmers based on their performance in prior rounds of the program.'

'While we appreciate USDA's effort to combat hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are concerned by the potential impact these new restrictions will have on farmers, families, and local food systems,' the Members continued. 'Limiting eligibility strictly to entities with the ability to procure all the required food categories will likely have implications on program costs and access, which must be fully understood before moving forward. Moreover, we are concerned these proposed changes move the program dangerously close to the Administration's flawed 'Harvest Box' proposal, which faced bipartisan opposition and never received Congressional authorization.'

A signed copy of the letter can be found here, and the full text is below. DeLauro serves as Vice Chair of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Fudge is the Chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, and Bustos is a member of both the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Agriculture.

The Honorable George Ervin 'Sonny' Perdue III

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write out of concern for the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) proposed changes to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program and to urge you to stop implementation until the Department appropriately seeks public input on how these changes will impact farmers and families who access the program. Until then, USDA should continue to award contracts to farmers based on their performance in prior rounds of the program.

On Friday, July 24, USDA announced new restrictions that will dramatically impact which farmers can continue to participate in the third round of the Famers to Families Food Box Program. Specifically, USDA now plans to only award contracts to farmers who can supply 'combination boxes,' where each box includes specific minimum requirements of produce, dairy products, meat products, and fluid milk. Previously, farmers were eligible to receive contracts for 'single-item boxes' which contained product of only one of the four food categories.

Given the complexities and skillsets required for different areas of agriculture and farming, famers today typically specialize in specific areas of production. Indeed, we have heard from farmers across the nation who are slated to be ineligible for future contracts because they do not produce product from all four food categories on their farms. Moreover, the logistical obstacles associated with identifying individual subcontractors for other food categories is impractical for many farmers and renders that alternative nearly impossible.

While we appreciate USDA's effort to combat hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are concerned by the potential impact these new restrictions will have on farmers, families, and local food systems. Limiting eligibility strictly to entities with the ability to procure all the required food categories will likely have implications on program costs and access, which must be fully understood before moving forward. Moreover, we are concerned these proposed changes move the program dangerously close to the Administration's flawed 'Harvest Box' proposal, which faced bipartisan opposition and never received Congressional authorization.

We remain committed to working with you to ensure our nation's farmers, as well as the families who rely on their harvest, are supported through this challenging time.

Sincerely,