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Velazquez Leads Over a Dozen New York Democrats in Seeking Audit of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program

Velázquez Leads Over a Dozen New York Democrats in Seeking Audit of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program
November 25, 2020
Press Release

 

Washington, DC – Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-NY), and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), have led thirteen New York Democratic colleagues in sending a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Inspector General posing serious concerns over the operation and distribution of food under the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box (FFFB) program in New York, a federal COVID-19 relief effort to combat the rise in food insecurity.  

“As the number of food-insecure families continues to rise, the need continues to be unprecedented across our communities,” wrote the lawmakers. “We are writing to request that your agency conduct a formal investigation and audit to examine the effectiveness of the USDA’s methods and implementation of this program and determine if they meet the needs of communities disproportionally afflicted by the coronavirus and its economic impact.”

The program comprises of a partnership between the USDA and national, regional, and local food distributors impacted by the pandemic. According to the USDA, food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits servicing those in need are eligible to receive food boxes through the program. However, various small non-profit organizations in New York have experienced issues partnering with USDA selected vendors. As a result, several have had to rely on procuring food boxes from larger organizations in order to maintain a steady supply of nourishment for their food insecure communities.

The letter asks USDA to provide information on the food banks receiving deliveries, the number of food shipments eliminated, the processes used, and what protections the program has in place to prevent community groups from facing additional costs. By requesting a formal investigation, the lawmakers are seeking more information on how USDA can best address the issue to ensure the program is reaching New Yorkers in need and suffering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 

The text of the letter can be found below.

A PDF copy of the letter is available online here.

 
 

November 24, 2020
 
The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Office of the Inspector General
Room 117-W Jamie Whitten Building
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
 
Dear Inspector General Fong:
 
As Members of Congress, we write to express our strong concerns regarding the program implementation and food resource distribution under the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Box (FFFB) program. As the number of food-insecure families continues to rise, the need continues to be unprecedented across our communities. We are writing to request that your agency conduct a formal investigation and audit to examine the effectiveness of the USDA's methods and implementation of this program and determine if they meet the needs of communities disproportionally afflicted by the coronavirus and its economic impact.
 
In general, it is our understanding that USDA has selected vendors to provide services in areas of need. However, it has come to our attention that several community-based organizations and nonprofits have had to make significant changes in their partnerships. At times, some organizations needed to contract additional services to obtain products that should have otherwise been delivered directly to food pantries or nonprofits. The confusion and delay resulting from the fourth and most recent round of contracts provided under the program have increased food pantries' costs. Given these details, we are concerned that current vendors do not appropriately distribute boxes to the communities that need them most. While the need for aid is great across the board, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the program meets the needs of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.
 
As part of this formal investigation and audit, we respectfully request that your agency examine the following items:
 

  • During the course of the FFFB initiative, how many food banks in New York State received food boxes? What were the names and addresses of each nonprofit that vendors partnered within New York City and New York State?  What was the median and mean of each delivery? How did these figures vary, and why was such variation present?

 
How many direct shipments have been eliminated in each of the round’s initiatives? If direct shipments were eliminated, what protocol or procedure did USDA have in place to ensure that deliveries were arriving to communities at-risk or that would otherwise benefit from direct shipment? In how many instances were food banks expected to cover delivery costs that would have otherwise been covered with direct delivery?
 

  • What guardrails has the USDA implemented to guarantee that nonprofits are not incurring additional costs as a result of partnering with a vendor under the FFFB program?

 
The USDA has ignored multiple requests from Members of Congress, who have raised serious concerns about the operation and implementation of the FFFB program. The USDA’s blatant disregard of our requests is alarming and warrants a formal investigation from your office. We hope that you will deliver a response within 30 days of electronic receipt of this email. We look forward to hearing from your agency on the next steps to ensure transparency, efficiency, and oversight.
 
Sincerely,

 
Nydia M. Velázquez
Member of Congress
 
Joseph Morelle
Member of Congress

Grace Meng
Member of Congress

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Member of Congress

Adriano Espaillat
Member of Congress
 
Brian Higgins
Member of Congress
 
Eliot L. Engel
Member of Congress
 
Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress
 
Gregory Meeks
Member of Congress
 
Kathleen M. Rice
Member of Congress
 
Carolyn B. Maloney
Member of Congress
 
José E. Serrano
Member of Congress
 
Hakeem Jeffries
Members of Congress

Yvette Clarke
Member of Congress

Tom Suozzi
Member of Congress

Paul D. Tonko
Member of Congress

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