Clyburn Launches Investigation on Reported Mismanagement in USDA Pandemic Food Assistance Program
Washington, D.C. (August 24, 2020) -- Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue seeking documents on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program intended to provide critical food assistance to Americans struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Although Congress allocated billions of dollars to distribute food to Americans in need, I am concerned that the Trump Administration’s management of this critical effort has been marred by questionable contracting practices, a lack of accountability, and a failure to deliver food to many communities that need it most,” the Chairman wrote.
In March 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which authorized USDA to use funds appropriated by Congress to buy food directly from producers and distribute it to Americans in need of food assistance. This includes the 1 in 6 Americans who could go hungry during the coronavirus crisis, especially in communities of color.
Weaknesses in USDA’s implementation of this program risk undermining this important goal. USDA reportedly awarded contracts to companies that “never knew about” a required food service industry license as well as companies that lacked industry networks to source and deliver food. Media reports indicate that certain contractors did not have the size or experience to perform. Hunger relief organizations have raised concerns about “program coordination, accountability, and communications,” as well as “unevenness in the bidding and contracting process” that undermined “the equity and accountability” of the program.”
Rather than focusing on addressing these problems, the Administration appears to be seeking political benefits from the program, including by inserting a letter signed by President Trump in food boxes.
More than 54 million people may be experiencing food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic. On July 21, 2020, almost 20% of Americans with kids who responded to a Census Bureau survey said they can’t afford to give their children enough food. Without a national plan to contain the coronavirus and reopen schools safely, over 30 million students who receive free or reduced-price lunches each day may go without food.
The Chairman’s letter seeks documents related to contractors’ performance, prices paid by USDA, and audits performed in connection with the program.
Click here to read today’s letter.