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Letter From The Editor: End of a safe food program that made a difference

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The Farmers to Families Food Box program is dead, killed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. When it runs out of money later this month, it will have spent $5.5 billion in one year on a unique COVID relief program.

In the trillions upon trillions spent on COVID relief, that $5.5 billion is not much. Born early on out of necessity when pandemic fear was sweeping the land, the Food Box program was something farmers and food handlers could do about it.

Most associated with former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the Famers to Families Food Box program was like one of those FDR experimental programs that gave people hope during the Great Depression.

USDA has worked since Day 1 to overcome logistical problems. The Biden administration has reasons to bail. It will miss out on what it’s like to deliver more than 156 million food boxes to hungry Americans during a pandemic crisis.

USDA is committed to returning to the fresh produce box program run through food banks that existed before Farmers to Families. There is also interest in making up the difference with a public/private partnership for other foods.

“The food box program was designed and implemented as a temporary effort to respond to severe market disruption caused by the collapse of food service in the early stages of the pandemic; it had some significant challenges along the way,” said a USDA spokesman.

One problem was limits to geographic reach; food boxes were delivered to 2,106 of the country’s 3,006 counties, leaving some of the most isolated areas without service.

For his part, Vilsack has expressed support for something coming after the temporary program. The end of Farmers to Families is another sign the pandemic itself is winding down as larger percentages of the population are vaccinated.

The pandemic left the public with more confidence about the safety of home deliveries. Farmers to Families helped by replacing that fear with confidence.

There is no reason not to expect something better out of the Biden Administration when they take what they’ve learned from Farmers to Families.

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