Commissioner Beal calls on USDA to reopen bidding process and rectify challenges of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program

May 21, 2020

For more information contact: Jim Britt at jim.britt@maine.gov

AUGUSTA- Today, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) Commissioner Amanda Beal called on the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service (USDA-AMS) to strengthen the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program's (CFAP) Farmers to Food Box initiative. Challenges resulted in no Maine distributors being selected to participate in this critically important program.

"Farmers in our state have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but are eager to continue to grow food for consumers. Likewise, many families in Maine need extra support during this unprecedented time, and it has been projected that food insecurity in Maine could increase by as much as 39 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19," wrote Commissioner Beal.

In addition to this direct outreach to USDA-AMS, DACF is continuing to work with Maine's congressional delegation and statewide and national partners in advocating for federal programs, like CFAP, to ensure they work for Maine. Beal's request is for a second RFP in the fall, where regional distributors and Maine can have another chance in the bid process.


The complete text of Commissioner Beal's letter is below:

May 21, 2020

Mr. Bruce Summers
Administrator
USDA Agriculture Marketing Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-3601

Dear Mr. Summers,

We appreciate the efforts of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) in rolling out the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). This critical program aims to help provide direct support to farmers while maintaining the integrity of our food supply chain and ensuring Americans have access to healthy foods that they need.

Maine has a rich and diverse agriculture industry, comprised of producers and nonprofit service providers and other businesses of all sizes that are interested in participating in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Unfortunately, given the many logistical challenges of operating a new program and the short turnaround for the bidding process, no Maine distributors were selected for this program. Additionally, most of the distributors that serve Maine who were awarded contracts will not be supplying food boxes due to either capacity or quality and food safety concerns. We ask that the USDA strongly consider reopening the bidding process for this fall, which will give distributors and partners in Maine adequate time to thoughtfully develop a plan to implement this program.

Additionally, we suggest that the USDA consider enhancing flexibility of the design and assembly of boxes to allow for local producer boxes, filled with state-produced vegetables, dairy, and meat products that may be distributed across smaller regions throughout each state. Local partners know first-hand how to maximize efficiency, reduce food safety issues, and streamline labor and distribution methods. Additional flexibility of box design and assembly requirements will allow for more state partners to participate in the program.

Like all small businesses in Maine, farmers in our state have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but are eager to continue to grow food for consumers. Likewise, many families in Maine need extra support during this unprecedented time, and it has been projected that food insecurity in Maine could increase by as much as 39 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19. We are confident that the Farmers to Families Food Box Program can help provide much-needed support for both, but only if the program can be adapted and flexibility be given to fit individual state needs.

Thank you for your thoughtful attention to these requests. I'd be happy to discuss these matters in further detail at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Amanda Beal
Commissioner
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

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