WASHINGTON, D.C. – With nearly one in seven Ohio families lacking reliable access to food, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure that The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) can continue to provide local food banks with commodity foods. In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Brown and 22 of his Senate colleagues urged him to distribute existing funding through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to purchase additional foods for distribution to food banks in Ohio and across America. TEFAP helps supply low-income senior citizens and families with nutritious commodity foods, including canned fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, beans, pasta, peanut butter, rice, and soups. 

“With paychecks failing to keep pace with the rising cost of food, many Ohio families are turning to local food pantries and banks to ensure they don’t go hungry,” said Brown. “But unless USDA provides additional support through The Emergency Food Assistance Program, Ohio food banks could face bare shelves in the face of rising demand. By using existing funding, USDA can purchase additional food for the TEFAP program and help ensure that more Ohio families and children have access to nutritious foods.”

Without any additional purchases of TEFAP commodities by USDA, the funding levels for the program will drop by $78 million in FY2015 from FY2014. Many food banks in Ohio and across the country could face the prospect of seriously depleted food stocks in the coming months if the USDA does not purchase additional commodity foods.

Brown continues to work to ensure that Ohio families and children don’t go hungry. Last week, Brown announced his cosponsorship of the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act, bipartisan legislation that would increase access to summer federal child nutrition programs.

The full letter is below:

August 11, 2015

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for your continued commitment in the fight against hunger.  We write this letter to urge you to use your administrative authority to ensure that USDA is utilizing all possible resources to ensure a steady stream of The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) commodities to our nation’s food banks and through them, to countless food pantries and affiliated community organizations.  Specifically, we strongly encourage you to utilize existing appropriated TEFAP funds as well as price and market support programs such as Section 32 funds and to be proactive in meeting these agencies’ need for commodities.  Low-income families across the country are depending on USDA to continue this commitment.

While national unemployment rates have dropped, millions of people continue to struggle to get back on their feet, struggling to find work or get by on reduced family income.  Too many seniors also struggle to make ends meet each month. According to the Hunger in America 2014 report released by Feeding America, forty six million Americans, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors, are now receiving emergency food assistance each year through the nation’s food banks. 

Unfortunately for food banks, USDA bonus commodity purchases have declined 17 percent over the last two years from a high of $302 million in FY 2012 to $253 million in FY 2014.  Unless additional purchases are made before the end of FY 2015, the purchase amount for FY2015 is expected to decline again to a low of $175 million.  With over $200 million in remaining Section 32 funds and available agriculture surpluses on the market, we believe there are significant opportunities to increase commodity purchases for distribution to struggling families. Food banks are struggling to meet high demand, sometimes unable to fill order requests from local agencies. These shortfalls could be ameliorated by USDA making additional TEFAP commodity purchases and maximizing market surplus opportunities.

As you know, TEFAP commodities are critical to emergency food providers and, more importantly, to struggling Americans.  Our nation’s food banks are stretched thin meeting sustained high need in their communities.  According to Feeding America, TEFAP commodities comprise, on average, about 20% of the food moving through their network of 198 nationwide food banks.  Without additional TEFAP commodities, food banks will be hard-pressed to continue providing current levels of food assistance to those in need.  Once again we encourage you to utilize your existing funds and authority to maximize TEFAP commodity purchases. 

We appreciate your attention to this request and look forward to hearing from you regarding this issue.