USDA sends $ 1 billion in funding to nationwide food bank networks

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Agriculture Department is sending $ 1 billion to food bank networks across the country, seeking to expand the reach of the system and overhaul the way food banks acquire and distribute aid.

Half of the funding, announced Friday, comes from the US bailout’s COVID stimulus bill and half from standard congressional appropriations. Like other aspects of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better initiative, the food bank’s plan openly seeks to use COVID recovery as a chance to reform a support system whose flaws have been exposed by the pandemic.

“We need to do more to improve the partnerships and infrastructure that power emergency food distribution to ensure the food provided is nutritious and supports a better food system,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. communicated.

Vilsack said upcoming reforms would seek to “apply lessons learned from food aid activities at the onset of the pandemic to improve the way USDA purchases food and supports organizations on the ground.”

This includes a focus on purchasing food from local producers, working with “socially disadvantaged farmers” and expanding infrastructure to better serve rural and underserved communities.

“This is a big deal. A billion dollars is a lot of money,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, calling it a “huge boost” for the food security industry.

When the COVID-19 pandemic crippled parts of the US economy last spring, food banks became an immediate anchor of direct support, ranging from large existing charities to modest DIY neighborhood pop-ups. .

Berg said food banks are particularly broad in scope because they often serve people who might not be eligible for full government benefits or who may simply be reluctant to fully engage in the government benefit system.

And the new cash flow in the US food bank system comes at a particularly opportune time. As the country emerges from the pandemic, Berg said “there is donor fatigue across the nonprofit sector.”

Feeding America, which operates 200 food banks across the country, said the need for food assistance has increased by 55 percent over the past year. The organization estimates that around 42 million people could still experience food insecurity in 2021 in part due to the current economic fallout from COVID-19.

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