Queens lawmaker calls for U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure smooth fourth round of funding for critical food relief program

File photo courtesy of Rep. Grace Meng’s office

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has secured funding for another round of food relief that will benefit many families in Queens and other parts of New York who are facing food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Congresswoman Grace Meng. 

Meng led members of New York’s Congressional Delegation in a bicameral letter urging Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to confirm the fourth round of funding for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program’s Farmers to Families Food Box initiative. 

“The evidence is clear on why this program is so critical and necessary. New York City’s food pantries have reported a massive spike in demand compared to months before the pandemic,” Meng said.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created CFAP, a $19 billion program to help agricultural producers — who have faced a 5 percent or greater decline in commodity prices — access financial relief during COVID-19. 

Under the initiative, the USDA purchases fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers to package into boxes that are distributed by nonprofits, and faith-based and community organizations to Americans facing food insecurity. 

Meng’s letter is urging the USDA to ensure that vendors can provide combination boxes and meat/dairy/produce-only boxes for pantries and food assistance groups that service those who observe kosher and halal diets.

“For such a diverse city, it is important that we provide not only adequate food, but boxes that kosher and halal communities can access. I look forward to the Secretary’s response,” Meng said. 

The correspondence highlighted the chaos from the round three funding that resulted in restrictions for food vendors to service specific boroughs and counties which left food pantries scrambling to find new partnerships with zero guidance from the USDA, no overlap in service provisions, and nowhere to turn to help, according to Meng. 

“I hope the agency has learned from its previous missteps in round-three funding, and will ensure the fourth round proceeds smoothly so that families who need this critical food assistance are not harmed,” Meng said. 

Senator Charles Schumer said the limitations in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program made matters worse, preventing food banks from serving communities that rely on them. 

“I, along with Congresswoman Meng, will hold the Secretary accountable for resolving these issues and fulfilling the requests for food boxes that meet the dietary needs of our communities,” Schumer said. 

Meanwhile, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said the USDA must do right by New Yorkers this time around. 

“The USDA must confirm that vendors will be able to supply our local food pantries adequately, and that New Yorkers who keep kosher and halal won’t be excluded from having their nutritional needs met,” Gillibrand said.