Local food bank compensates for reduction in government ‘bonus food’

Local and state food banks received fewer donations from the United States Department of Agriculture this year. Rachel Lundberg has the story.

Food banks across the nation receive a portion of their food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, enacted by the federal government.

The program has two parts. The first remains the same from year to year, with a budget of $260 million. The second depends on how well the agriculture market does.

Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the USDA, says the second part of the program serves as price and market support. It keeps food prices from going too high and the agriculture industry from sinking too low.

In shorthand, we refer to them as bonus foods. And that mechanism is used to basically support and bolster the agriculture industry.

That bonus food gets sent to food banks every year along with a guaranteed $260 million in TEFAP donations. But depending on how agriculture does, food banks receive more food some years than others.

In 2011, the combined purchases were almost $750 million. The larger portion of that being in bonus purchases if you will.

Despite the high donations in 2011, fiscal year 2012 saw a combined total of $565 million dollars spent on the TEFAP program. That nearly $200 million decrease in donations means good news for the agriculture industry, but bad news for American food banks.

The USDA alerted the Youngstown, Ohio, Second Harvest Food Bank in mid-2011 that donations would decrease for fiscal Year 2012. Those lost donations made up 15 percent of Second Harvest’s food supply.

Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest, says the food bank responded by increasing solicitations for donations and came out ahead.

And that’s due directly to the efforts of our staff … Knowing that we were going to see this cut come. We kind of geared up for it last year.

Rather than being down 1.5 million pounds of food, Second Harvest has 187,000 more pounds to distribute.

Iberis harbors no hard feelings about the USDA’s cut.

I don’t believe it was anything on their part that was negative in terms of them wanting to supply less food to hungry people.

The lower USDA donations had no financial impact on Second Harvest, which distributes food to 153 agencies, pantries and soup kitchens in the tri-county area. All the food brought in to replace the USDA donations was obtained through donation only.

Concannon says the USDA does not fully know what donations for fiscal year 2013 will look like. Part of that uncertainty is based on unresolved budgetary issues, but the rest depends on the market.

The so-called bonus foods will depend on how the American agriculture does across the course of the year. And it’s really hard to predict at this point.

Reporting for TheNewsOutlet.org, I’m Rachel Lundberg.