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House Ag Committee leaders press USDA for Food Box program answers

Infographic showing the USDA partnering with farmers, distributors, and non-profits to provide access to food during COVID.
WASHINGTON DC (May 22, 2020) – House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Chair Marcia L. Fudge, Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Chair Jim Costa, and Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett formally requested information from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue Thursday on USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
The letter comes amid reports of contracts under the program awarded to companies with little to no experience in agriculture and food distribution.
“As Chairs of the Subcommittees in the U.S. House of Representatives with jurisdiction over USDA food purchase and donation programs, we share USDA’s goal of providing effective and timely assistance to families, farmers, and food supply businesses like food distributors,” wrote the lawmakers. “We are concerned, however, that contracts were awarded to entities with little to no experience in agriculture or food distribution and with little capacity to meet the obligations of their award.”
Together, the three Chairs asked Secretary Perdue the following questions:
  • What criteria were used to determine which applicants would be awarded contracts?
  • How did USDA consider and evaluate applicants’ previous experiences and preexisting relationships with farmers, non-profits, and emergency feeding organizations?
  • What consideration did USDA give to applicants’ current financial standings when awarding contracts?
  • What considerations did USDA give to applicants’ capacity to fully deliver the quantities outlined in their solicitations without overly relying on subcontractors?
  • What criteria were used to determine which products would be included in this program?
  • What consideration did USDA give to supporting minority-owned, women-owned, or veteran-owned businesses when awarding contracts?
  • What consideration did USDA give to awarding contracts in a way that demonstrated equity across regions and agriculture sectors?
  • How will USDA ensure awardees are fulfilling the obligations of their contracts? What action will USDA take if it is determined that an awardee is not fulfilling their obligations?
  • How did USDA evaluate an applicant’s ability to implement strict food safety protocol, particularly for applicants with little to no experience in the food and agriculture sector?
  • Concerning fresh produce deliveries, did USDA require applicants have a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) license prior to being granted a contract? If not, why?
“At a time when the farm economy continues to suffer and families across the country face increasing food insecurity, it is our shared goal that this program fulfill its stated mission to support the domestic agriculture industry and provide critical assistance to families in need,” added the Chairs.