Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congressman James P. McGovern (MA-02) this week led 20 of their colleagues in writing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the agency to allocate equitable resources to the Northeast region under the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which was created to address both skyrocketing food insecurity for families and devastating economic losses for farmers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawmakers cited regional disparities in how the USDA has allocated these funds since its initial round of funding, noting that the Northeast has received the second-lowest allocation of any geographic region despite representing the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Before the COVID-19 public health crisis began, more than 3.6 million people in the Northeast region experienced food insecurity, and over the course of this pandemic these numbers have only increased. Since then, the USDA established the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to create partnerships with distributors and organizations, to purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to supply to families in need.
However, despite representing the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, the Northeast region received the second-lowest allocation of any geographic region—only $46 million (4.4 percent) of the total $1.2 billion made in the first round of USDA’s distributions.
“[I]n recent months, we have learned about troubling discrepancies in how the USDA has allocated the program’s funds,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Given that USDA has already initiated a second round of distributions between July 1st through August 31st, we write to demand that our constituents receive equitable access to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program going forward.”
The lawmakers also asked Secretary Perdue to provide additional information regarding USDA’s implementation of the program, including:
• An explanation of the agency’s methodology for determining contract assignments;
• An explanation of safeguards the agency will take to ensure that the proportion of program allocations reflect the proportion of food insecurity represented in a given geographic region; and
• A detailed explanation of how the second round of funding will be distributed.
They asked that USDA respond to their inquiry no later than August 1.