Exclusive: US government’s promise of canned food aid does not hold

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The US government has delivered far less food aid than it promised at the end of June, food bank officials and data from the Department of Agriculture sent to Reuters after hiring inexperienced companies to package food during the pandemic.

The Farmers to Families Food Box Program, one of many new government efforts to relieve troubled Americans, was aimed at taking farm food commonly produced for restaurants and delivering it to the millions of people who have lost their jobs or who were otherwise affected by the coronavirus blockage.

But the program has drawn criticism from food banks, analysts and some US senators for awarding contracts to often inexperienced sellers who were unable to source and deliver them in a timely manner.

Data sent to Reuters shows program failed to deliver $ 1.2 billion worth of food to food banks, churches and other organizations in need by June 30, target announced when food box contracts were awarded to private sellers on May 8.

The agency plans to audit a total of 27.5 million food boxes delivered during the program’s first cycle, a USDA representative said in an email. This equates to $ 755.5 million, according to Reuters calculations based on the average cost of food boxes provided by the USDA, or 63% of the $ 1.2 billion promised.

Overcrowded food banks across the country were optimistic that the program would bring ready-to-deliver food to families in need.

The program, supported by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, aimed to bridge the gap between those unable to afford enough food and the farmers who dump milk, euthanize pigs and destroy lettuce fields while demand for closed restaurants was decreasing.

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But deliveries were slow to start and were lower than promised, as some of the companies involved had never worked with food banks or even a wholesale food distribution. [L1N2CW2Y0]

“We get about 60% of what we were told we would get,” said Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, in an email. “Some of them were that suppliers couldn’t do what they said they would do.”

The USDA representative, who asked not to be named, said the agency continues to review food deliveries to ensure quality and safety standards. The USDA canceled two contracts in the first weeks of the program and did not renew 16 others. The agency representative did not comment on the June 30 delivery deficit.

The Trump administration announced up to $ 3 billion for the Food Box program in April as part of a larger aid initiative for farmers.

Last week, the USDA announced the renewal of $ 1.2 billion in crate contracts with more than 185 food distributors, which are expected to be delivered in late August. The agency also offers new contracts to 16 new food distributors totaling $ 180 million.

“Supposed to lighten the burden”

With suppliers behind on deliveries, food banks have reassigned staff to run the program and have offered their own trucks to put food in the hands of those who need it.

“We spend a lot of our staff time coordinating these deliveries – in some cases, we have to make the deliveries ourselves,” said Greg Trotter, senior director of public relations for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “It was supposed to ease the burden on food banks. This was not the case here for us. ”

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When deliveries are complete, Trotter said the program has provided high-quality food to an increasing number of unemployed Americans. The Greater Chicago Food Depository has seen a 90% increase in people served since January.

In early June, the number of Americans experiencing food insecurity doubled compared to pre-coronavirus, according to data from the US Weekly Pulse Survey of the US Census Bureau.

Among the suppliers that were not renewed in the second round was CRE8AD8 LLC, a Texas-based event organizer. The company, pronounced “Create a Date,” had to hire people for all of the roles necessary to fulfill its $ 39.13 million contract.

According to Greene of the Houston Food Bank, CRE8AD8 delivered only 17 of the 90 shipments of promised food boxes.

Source: Reuters

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