Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced legislation to address disruptions in the food supply chain caused by the coronavirus pandemic and directly connect farms to food banks. As restaurants, hotels, schools, and other food service entities cease operations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, reports have emerged that millions of pounds of produce have been left to rot. Meanwhile, food banks across the country are facing unprecedented demand, as millions of newly unemployed Americans now face food insecurity. The Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act would provide needed support to food banks as they continue to serve the surge of jobless Americans, while also supporting struggling farmers who lack buyers for their produce.
“Like many Americans dealing with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak, farmers in New York and across the country are struggling to make ends meet,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act will not only provide them with a new chain of potential buyers, but it will put money directly in their pockets by cutting out middlemen and will deliver fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables to millions of Americans facing food insecurity. This important bill will stimulate the farm economy and strengthen the health of Americans. I’m proud to introduce this legislation and will fight for its inclusion in the next relief package.”
More than 30 million Americans are currently jobless due to the coronavirus pandemic and many are struggling to put food on the table. According to Feeding America, a leading hunger relief organization, demand at food banks has surged by 70%. Today, with food banks facing mile-long lines, the need for resources to feed hungry Americans is greater than ever. The Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act would meet this demand by giving food banks the power to purchase excess specialty crops — including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and dried fruits, which are easily stored and processed by food banks — directly from farmers.
Senator Gillibrand’s proposed Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act would provide $8 billion in block grants to food banks in the top vegetable and fruit producing states. Food banks will be able to use the funds to purchase fresh produce directly from farmers in New York, which is the 15th largest vegetable and fruit producing state, and other states. They will also be able to use the funding to pay for distribution, processing, and additional staff needed to meet increased demand.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Gillibrand has prioritized support for farmers throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, Senator Gillibrand announced the Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act, which would provide economic relief for small farmers suffering from massive financial losses due to reduced demand and supply chain disruptions. In addition, she has repeatedly urged the administration to support dairy producers and provide assistance under the CARES Act for local food producers who have experienced losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act has been endorsed by leading food access advocacy organizations:
“The hunger crisis has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and while the fight is urgent, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Nothing short of a full-scale, long-term federal response will be sufficient to meet this challenge on behalf of New Yorkers and Americans who will face the consequences of this pandemic for a long time to come. We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her leadership and partnership in this fight and for working hard to ensure that emergency food providers in every corner of the country have the resources to help Americans put food on the table.” – Leslie Gordon, President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City
“We’re grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her tireless advocacy to ensure that our friends and neighbors in need have food on the table. During these unprecedented times and the drastically increased requests for fresh, nutritious food of the emergency food network, this legislation would make a significant impact on Food Bank of Central New York’s ability to meet that need. Our service area of Central and Northern New York has a rich and diverse agricultural history and we welcome the additional funding to increase our ability to support local farmers and food producers while feeding those in need.“ – Karen Belcher, Interim Executive Director, Food Bank of Central New York
“The value of this grant program right now would be immeasurable, and we are deeply grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her efforts. Sourcing from regional farmers to provide fresh, healthy food to some of New York City’s most hard-hit communities supports not only vulnerable New Yorkers during the current pandemic, but also a healthy regional food system, the significance of which is demonstrated by recent disruptions in the industrial food supply chain.” – GrowNYC President and CEO Marcel Van Ooyen
“As our nation faces unprecedented unemployment coupled by a precipitous rise in food insecurity and the vanishing of direct marketing opportunities that sustain so many family farms, it is critical that we prioritize our resources to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables to communities in need while supporting small-scale farmers. WhyHunger applauds Senator Gillibrand’s amendment to the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 to provide funding to help food banks and food access networks work directly with farmers to purchase fresh, nutrient rich produce and the infrastructure they need to store and distribute it to the most vulnerable. Facilitating direct relationships between specialty crop growers and food access networks is a win-win and will contribute to the strengthening of local and regional food and farm economies and nourishment of the American people.” – Noreen Springstead, executive director ofWhyHunger, a global non-profit working to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food
Full text of the legislation can be found here.