The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on May 8 announced $1.2 billion in contracts to help American producers and communities hit by the pandemic.
The new initiative pairs suppliers of agricultural goods with food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits serving Americans in need, under the USDA’s Families Food Box program.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue characterized the initiative as a “new, innovative approach to provide critical support to American farmers and families,” in a news release.
The move is part of the USDA’s authority under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to buy up to $3 billion of agricultural products from suppliers and deliver them to those in need.
“We were pleased to see the abundance of interest from both food distributors and nonprofit organizations,” Perdue said. “Within days, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will begin distributing surplus food, while safeguarding food safety techniques, to communities across the country where it’s needed most.”
Under the new program, USDA will issue a call via a solicitation website for proposals to supply commodity boxes to nonprofits. The contracts, awarded by USDA, will be for the purchase of the agricultural products, the assembly of commodity boxes, and delivery to nonprofit organizations, which will distribute the food.
“USDA moved as expeditiously as federal procurement rules allow to stand up the program and solicit offers,” Perdue said.
President Donald Trump, in a May 9 tweet, wrote: “Starting early next week, at my order, the USA will be purchasing, from our Farmers, Ranchers & Specialty Crop Growers, 3 Billion Dollars worth of Dairy, Meat & Produce for Food Lines & Kitchens.”
“‘FARMERS TO FAMILY FOOD BOX’ Great news for all,” he said, tagging Perdue and American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall.
Trump on April 17 announced the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, developed to help farmers, ranchers, and consumers in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The program includes $16 billion in direct payments to producers and mass purchases of meat, dairy, vegetables, and other products.
“American agriculture has been hard-hit, like most of America, with the coronavirus, and President Trump is standing with our farmers and all Americans to make sure that we all get through this national emergency,” Perdue said at a White House news conference.
Farmers and ranchers have struggled to get their goods to market because of disruption caused by the pandemic, forcing some to throw out food and call for government help.
“Having to dump milk or plow under vegetables ready to market is not only financially distressing but it’s heartbreaking as well for those that produce them,” Perdue said.
Direct payments will be sent “as quickly as possible” as farm commodity producers have experienced “unprecedented losses,” Perdue said, adding that checks could be sent by the end of May.
The $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers will include $9.6 billion for the livestock industry—with $5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy, and $1.6 billion for hogs, according to a statement released May 8 by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee.
In addition, $3.9 billion will be paid to row crop producers, $2.1 billion for specialty crop farmers, and $500 million for other crops, according to the statement. The payments are capped at $250,000 per individual farmer or entity.
“The American food supply chain had to adapt, and it remains safe, secure, and strong, and we all know that starts with America’s farmers and ranchers,” Perdue said in an April 17 release. “This program will not only provide immediate relief for our farmers and ranchers, but it will also allow for the purchase and distribution of our agricultural abundance to help our fellow Americans in need.”
Reuters contributed to this report.