PHILADELFIA – After allowing a vital feeding program created during the pandemic to end before the holidays, the Trump administration plans to restart this month at the urging of Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser.
While anti-hunger supporters are grateful for the intervention, they complain that the program has been mismanaged. They say it benefits farmers and distributors more than those in need, and that food deliveries are often delayed and sometimes damaged. Congress has investigated these allegations.
Starting January 19, the US Department of Agriculture will add $ 1.5 billion to the Farmer’s to Family Lunchbox program, the distribution of food to Americans in need. It started in May with more than $ 3 billion in funding and ends in mid-December. Additional money for the program was included in the COVID-19 assistance package as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed on December 21.
Every week for more than seven months, the Food Sharing Program distributed 42,000 boxes to about 200,000 people in Philadelphia and surrounding counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to executive director George Matysik.
Calculating its distribution differently, Philabundance provided a total of 622,660 Farmers to Family boxes – the equivalent of 12,064,325 pounds of food – during the same time period, according to Kate Scully, director of government affairs for the hunger relief agency.
The boxes are available at city-designated feeding stations in Philadelphia, as well as at soup kitchens in the area.
Nationwide, the Trump administration says it has distributed 3.3 billion food items made from lunchboxes, each containing about 35 pounds of meat, milk and produce. The president ordered a letter that read, “I prioritize the delivery of nutritious food from our farmers to our needy families across America.” This caused a stir among supporters and others who say Trump is politicizing hunger.
Appreciating Ivanka Trump for lobbying US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for additional funding to restart the program, Matysik said, “There is not much desire from the White House to continue running this program, but Ivanka, along with Congress, are moving it up front.”
In a statement, the president’s daughter said, “I am proud to share, thanks to the efforts of the Trump administration, the Farmer to Family Lunchbox program. [can] … continue to feed needy families, [and] provide jobs and support our small farmers. During these unprecedented times, this Administration will continue to fight for American families and will always put them first. “
Perdue said in a statement that the box would “greatly help American families access nutritious and healthy food as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Even though lunchboxes were accepted, their thawing was sometimes hampered by problems.
Over the summer, members of Congress noted that in order to deliver boxes of food, the USDA uses its Agricultural Marketing Services, not Food and Nutrition Services. Marketing services help farmers sell produce, while nutrition groups manage food aid programs.
This may have caused serious delays as distributors unaware of the food bank’s needs were assigned to deliver the boxes, anti-hunger proponents said. In many cases, the food never makes it to the food bank, or when it does, it goes bad.
Also, proponents say that the government pays a high price for the food – as much as $ 60 per box when it should be closer to $ 20, according to a report by National Public Radio.
“Operating this program for us has become a roller coaster,” said Kait Bowdler, director of food sourcing for Philabundance. “It’s a difficult place for us. On the one hand, it’s amazing how much extra food we can provide. But there are a lot of problems with logistics and dependability.
“We want to be careful biting the hand that feeds us.”
She said the lunchboxes were delivered late or didn’t show up at all, or that “the quality wasn’t what we expected. But there are also times when the food was simply outstanding.”
In August, US Representative James Clyburn, DS.C., announced that the Selected Subcommittee on the Corona Virus Crisis would investigate allegations of mismanagement in the program.
Meanwhile, at a lunchbox hearing in July, US Representative Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, was frustrated by what she saw as the USDA’s inability to answer questions about the program.
“Do they give [recipients] rotten food, what do I hear in some of these cases? “he said.” It is full of waste, fraud and abuse. “
In a statement, Kate Leone, chief government relations officer for Feeding America, the country’s largest food charity (of which Philabundance is a part), questioned whether the food box initiative was being used more as a job support program for food distributors and producers. apart from being a means of helping the hungry.
“Ivanka is really highlighting the small business side more than the needy side,” Leone said.
After studying the hiccups in the program, Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Human Needs Coalition in Washington, DC, criticized the Trump administration for allowing lunchboxes to expire in December.
“Food banks should stop providing food to people who depend on them for the holidays,” said Weinstein, whose organization is a non-profit alliance of national groups promoting public policy for low-income Americans.
The problem is growing because the government puts more emphasis on helping farmers and breeders by relying on the Agricultural Marketing Office, he said. And while “we are not against helping them,” he said, “it is the Food and Nutrition Services that have the best skills in distributing food. You have to remain vigilant when feeding hungry Americans.”
Weinstein pointed out that when Trump threatened to veto the Consolidated Allocation Act last month, the defunct lunchbox program would continue to go dark.
“That’s a scary thing,” he said.
Weinstein and other proponents have said that increasing the food stamp allowance (now known as the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP) would be a more efficient way to feed starving Americans than shipping boxes. The Consolidated Allocation Act includes a temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce it.
As the pandemic rages on, the need to help hungry people is a foregone conclusion, Weinstein said.
On Wednesday, the US Census Bureau released a finding showing that in mid-December, 30 million Americans reported that they “sometimes or often” didn’t have enough to eat during the week. That’s 4 million more than at the end of November.
Weinstein concluded, “The situation has become very urgent.”
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