October 20, 2018
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$1.2 billion in food headed to food banks might just mean more spoiled food

Sandy Huffaker | AP
Sandy Huffaker | AP

When the Trump administration announced this summer that it would spend $12 billion to help out farmers hurt by the president’s trade war with China, part of the plan was to buy $1.2 billion in agricultural products from farmers and distribute them to food assistance programs.

Now, those agricultural goods are flowing to some of the nation’s largest food bank networks. Certainly, food for those in need is a good thing. But the Trump administration’s execution shows that those in power aren’t all that concerned with helping those who depend on food banks.

The $1.2 billion in food products headed to food banks include perishable goods — and lots of them all at once — which means that the food banks need to have the infrastructure to prevent those goods from spoiling. But the $1.2 billion allotment for farmers doesn’t include money to help food banks build up their infrastructure to accept an influx of produce, from the trucks to distribute additional food to community food banks to the freezers needed to keep food from spoiling.

“This is a very large influx of food in a very short period of time, and we have a network that has been stretched capacity-wise,” Andy Souza, president of the Community Food Bank of California, told The Washington Post. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure no family goes hungry, but we are worried we could have to turn away truckloads of foods.”

So, farmers will receive financial support to help keep them afloat. But the Trump administration appears less concerned with the other side of that equation.

“We need more support to get this to the people who need it,” Chad Morrison of the Mountaineer Food Bank of West Virginia told the Post. “There’s so much cost in getting this food — trucking costs; food safety costs; staffing costs — that we are worried about and have to take into consideration.”

Earlier this year, Trump’s budget proposal included a provision that would have converted half of low-income families’ food stamp benefits into “America’s Harvest Box.” Low-income families at risk of going hungry would receive a box filled with, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish,” instead of benefits they could redeem at a grocery store.

As with the massive distribution of food to the nation’s food banks, the Trump administration hadn’t given much thought to the distribution of the harvest boxes. There was no talk from the administration about how the harvest boxes would make their way to the homes of food stamp recipients. There was no discussion about nutritional standards that would apply to the culinary selection either.

And the harvest box was part of a broader proposal that would have slashed the nation’s food stamp budget by 30 percent. Not exactly a genuine expression of concern for those struggling to get by.

The $1.2 billion distribution of agricultural products to the nation’s food banks allows Trump’s administration to say it’s doing some good to solve the nation’s persistent hunger problem. But the program’s execution — and the administration’s desire to slash the food stamps budget — shows that’s far from the primary goal.

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