Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, Congresswoman Hayes and the Connecticut Delegation sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture condemning changes to the third round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program (FFFBP). The USDA unexpectedly required vendors who had already been participating in the FFFBP to completely reapply for the third round of disbursement – a move clearly overburdening small Connecticut vendors who have diligently worked to serve our community at this time of dire need.
This move is especially concerning considering the Northeast region only received 4% of all funds in the first and second round of the program. At a time when food insecurity has skyrocketed and Connecticut agriculture has been economically ravaged, ensuring our state gets a fair shot at participation in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program is essential.
The text of the letter can be found below.
“Dear Secretary Perdue and Administrator Summers,
We write with grave concern regarding changes to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Basic Ordering Agreement(s) (BOAs) for the third round of the Farmers to Families Food Box (FFFB) Program. After hearing from Connecticut farmers, food banks, and food pantries, it has become clear that these changes will be a detriment to agriculture and food security in our state.
Thus far, participating Connecticut producers, food banks and food pantries have been deeply appreciative of the ability to connect fresh, local products with communities in need during this public health crisis. Participating farms have been able to stay afloat while ensuring their products are not wasted. Food banks and food pantries have been able to provide their clients with products that, for many, may be the freshest food to which they currently have access.
However, in round one and round two of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, the Northeast only secured 4% of all funds distributed by the USDA. While the USDA has not given a clear reason for the inequity in fund distribution, it is clear that small family vendors – like those in Connecticut – were disadvantaged in the application process. In total, Connecticut only had two producers that received contracts from the USDA over the course of the two rounds.
We are pleased that the USDA notified stakeholders of the rescission of their new combination box requirement on Friday, August 7, 2020. Additionally, we are pleased that the solicitation amendment adjusted the weight of the boxes from 30-40 pounds to between 15-21 pounds depending on the type of the box. We believe that these changes will benefit food banks and food pantries that service elderly clients, pedestrian clients, clients utilizing public transportation, and clients in small households. Not only would 30-40 pound boxes have been difficult to transport, but they would have risked food waste in small households.
However, we remain concerned with the following two changes to the ongoing round three solicitation: (1) the need for an entirely new application after small vendors in Connecticut already completed a complex initial application process; and (2) an open, rolling application process that will give large food wholesalers an upper hand. While we all recognize that giving more people access to more types of fresh food is a desirable goal, we have deep concerns that these logistical decisions will cut Connecticut producers, food banks, food pantries, and families out of the program.
It will be extremely difficult for small Connecticut vendors to undergo reapplication for this program during a public health and economic crisis, and now amidst their recovery from Tropical Storm Isaias. The inherent challenge of the application is compounded by the novelty and unexpected nature of the new food box requirements, as well as the need to apply as fast as possible due to the rolling application process the USDA selected. It is clear that small vendors were at a disadvantage in the initial application process, and we believe the need to reapply, combined with the importance of speed in a rolling application process, will advantage large wholesalers with much larger administrative capacity than small Connecticut vendors.
We underscore that our top priority is ensuring as many Connecticut producers, food banks, and food pantries as possible can participate in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Our concern stems from the recognition that these new, unforeseen requirements will disadvantage Connecticut producers, food banks, food pantries, and families.
We urge the USDA to revisit these requirements, ensure contracts are awarded equitably among the seven designated regions of the country, and provide technical assistance to small farmers who are eager to assist their communities in this time of dire need.”
Rep. Jahana Hayes has been a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.
Currently serving her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District.