Governor calls for USDA to guarantee adequate food supply and address supply chain gaps
Governor Janet Mills today urged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to coordinate a nationwide strategy to increase the amount of food available to emergency food programs and to address gaps in the food supply chain. The letter to the Secretary comes after Governor Mills held a conference call earlier this month with Maine hunger and relief organizations, including Good Shepherd Food Bank, Wayside Food Programs, Full Plates Full Potential and Catholic Charities, who conveyed the difficulty in meeting the surge in demand for food resulting from COVID-19.
“Our farm and food producers, and those up and down the supply chain, continue to serve the people of Maine by growing and selling food amidst the enormous challenges that we face today. From the farmers’ markets to the retail stores, the local gleaning networks to the community food pantries, Mainers are stepping up to the plate to ensure food is produced and disbursed in numerous ways while ensuring the health and safety of all involved,” wrote Governor Mills. “However, a patchwork of state efforts is not enough, and we urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take a stronger leadership role in ensuring that people are getting the healthy and nutritious food that they deserve, and that the gaps in the supply chain are addressed.”
In her letter, Governor Mills suggested that the USDA partner with other federal agencies and leverage existing programs, such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Section 32 Bonus Buy Back program, to procure and distribute more food. She also suggested prioritizing work with distributors to see that key items, such as canned foods, are distributed to emergency food providers.
“Governor Mills’ leadership on this issue is timely and proposes a solution that could help food banks across the country,” said Amanda Beal, Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “Our hope is for the USDA to act as quickly as possible and leverage their assets and resources to help get the food our emergency food provider community needs in order to feed Maine people during this challenging time.”
The complete text of Governor Mills’ letter to USDA Secretary Perdue follows:
April 13, 2020
The Honorable Sonny Perdue Secretary of Agriculture U.S. Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Perdue,
I want to thank you for your continued leadership as Maine and the nation grapple with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our farm and food producers, and those up and down the supply chain, continue to serve the people of Maine by growing and selling food amidst the enormous challenges that we face today. From the farmers’ markets to the retail stores, the local gleaning networks to the community food pantries, Mainers are stepping up to the plate to ensure food is produced and disbursed in numerous ways while ensuring the health and safety of all involved.
However, a patchwork of state efforts is not enough, and we urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take a stronger leadership role in ensuring that people are getting the healthy and nutritious foods that they deserve, and that the gaps in the supply chain are adequately addressed.
My administration has been working diligently to ensure that local Maine foods are available for all consumers; including at retail stores, food pantries, soup kitchens, and community markets. Just this past spring, I signed into law LD 786, An Act to Reduce Hunger and Promote Maine Agriculture, which awarded $2 million to Good Shepherd Food Bank, a statewide hunger-relief organization. This funding will be used to contract with local farmers to purchase food year-round for hunger relief efforts across the state of Maine. However, the growing season is only beginning to get underway, and the growing number of food insecure people in Maine, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19, need access to food today.
I recently held a call with several emergency food providers who are working diligently across the state to meet this need. They reported that while food insecurity is rising exponentially in Maine, they are doing all they can to respond to this urgent need. My administration has continued to monitor the challenges our emergency food providers are facing, and to respond to their needs in any way that we can.
I recognize that across this country, producers, distributors, wholesalers, and many others have responded admirably to adjust to the intense demands COVID-19 has placed upon our nation’s overall food supply. However, Maine, as with many states across the country, is experiencing disruption that is affecting emergency food providers in particular. Non-perishable foods such as canned goods, flour, beans and frozen items are often the first items off retail store shelves. Yet it is these key staples that are traditionally purchased by or donated to food pantries. As a result, food relief organizations are struggling with a critical lack of available food items to provide to their patrons.
I respectfully ask that the USDA coordinate a strategic effort to increase the availability of food items to emergency food programs and partners in at least two ways:
1) By leveraging existing USDA programs such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Section 32 Bonus Buy program, and others within the USDA’s jurisdiction, and by partnering with other federal agencies that have immediate purchasing and distribution powers. The USDA can procure and distribute more food through programs such as these.
2) By prioritizing work with distributors and others on food supply issues related to challenges specific to the emergency food system. When trying to purchase food for distribution themselves, emergency food providers are finding key items out of stock, and are told that they may be out of stock for up to several weeks.
We know that there is an abundance of healthy foods available for people across our great nation. We must work together to ensure that this food is getting to those that need it the most.
Sincerely, Janet T. Mills Governor
cc: Commissioner Amanda Beal Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry