In response to widespread controversy over pricing, inefficiency and alleged corruption, USDA chief Tom Vilsack announced on Wednesday that the Farmers to Families Food Box would run through the month of April and no further.
The Trump administration launched the program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and had no end of issues. It will be replaced with a smaller program, designed to work through food banks.
The program, which in its lifespan will have a cost somewhere north of $5 billion, was designed to solve two problems at once. The first was that, during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 20 million jobs were lost, leading to many more hungry Americans. The second involved the infrastructure of food movement: With hotels and restaurants closed or at limited capacity, many farmers suddenly had no market for their products, leading to those products being unceremoniously dumped.
In theory, the food box program would have taken that excess produce, paid a fair market value to the farmers and producers, and then delivered it to those in need. In practice, the program was far from perfect: Contracts were given to unqualified vendors (including a catering company in San Antonio); many states and counties never received their promised share of food boxes; deliveries arrived spoiled, late or both; and the cost to the government far exceeded the actual value of the products. It was, somehow, both expensive and inadequate.
Vilsack’s announcement ends the program after the end of April, with leftover money going to other food aid programs. In its place will be…well, another box system, this time of fresh produce going exclusively to food banks. These new boxes, writes Blue Book, will be between 10 and 12 pounds and include fruits and vegetables, plus “at least 2 locally grown fruit or vegetable items, as available.”
Vendors will have to re-apply; there’s no exception given to those who were supplying the previous food box program. This new food box system will run through the end of the fiscal year, until September 30.