On behalf of the millions of Americans who gained access to healthy fresh produce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are deeply disappointed in USDA’s decision to end the food box program. This decision is shortsighted, and comments disparaging the program are a slap in the face to the thousands of volunteers, non-profits, regional food distributors and farmers who worked together in communities across the country to deliver healthy foods to people in their time of greatest need.
For a major new program put together rapidly in a time of crisis, the food box program certainly included challenges. Yet, hundreds of community non-profits and nutrition advocates have found delivering fresh produce directly to those in need has great potential to truly make a difference in the health of millions of Americans. Speaking personally, United Fresh has worked with small farmers, distributors, food banks and community organizations over the past several months to submit more than 30 recommendations to USDA on ways to improve efficiency, accountability and assured delivery of high-quality produce to people in need.
Yet, it is apparent that USDA neither considered these recommendations nor listened to the wide range of support for the program in its recent public listening session. This sudden decision seems more a political statement repudiating a program begun in a former Administration than an objective evaluation of the program’s ability to improve Americans’ health. Ending the program abruptly rather than looking for ways to continue funding and to improve its execution is a terrible mistake as the COVID crisis has most seriously impacted those with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes, with greater hospitalization rates and even death compared with healthier populations.
Now that the Administration has ended this program, USDA bears a tremendous responsibility to develop new programs to get fresh, healthy foods to people in need. We cannot afford to go back to old, tired feeding programs that do not prioritize nutrition security as much as calorie security. It is time for bold action to address the nutrition health crisis facing our nation, and USDA needs to lead the way.