The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report “USDA Food Box Program: Key Information and Opportunities to Better Assess Performance,” released last week, sheds additional light on the program which delivered more than 176 million boxes of food from May 2020 to June 2021. The report indicates that the food box program was successful in reaching those in need, including 78% of counties in the United States and 89% of counties with more than 20% of the population living in poverty. There were areas of improvement cited, including USDA’s limited data collection on the number of jobs saved and disaggregated data on the types of recipient agencies that received food.
GAO also indicated that the lowest-cost bid approach in later rounds presented limitations. This aligns with the findings of United Fresh’s working group, convened earlier this year, to identify lessons learned during the program. The 100 member group – comprised of growers, distributors, and nonprofits – published 30 recommendations including returning to produce-only boxes, eliminating lowest-cost as the determining factor in contract decisions, and providing expanded, smaller contracts and multiple awards across USDA regions. Additionally, the working group found that the program purchased more than 100 different domestic fresh produce commodities, with half of contractors sourcing from local, small and mid-range growers.
United Fresh released the following statement upon the release of the report:
“The GAO report further validates how the USDA and the fresh produce industry can partner to tackle food and nutritional insecurity access challenges in innovative and effective ways. Despite the measurable gains over the past year to address food insecurity, including increases in SNAP benefits, nutrition insecurity has not gone away. That is why United Fresh encourages Congress and the Administration to craft policy and programs that provide new solutions to age-old challenges for those most in need.”