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Millions In Federal Dollars Go To Firms With Limited Experience Delivering Massive Amounts Of Food

Julia Reihs/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Companies have been awarded $1.2 billion in contracts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, to redirect millions of pounds of food waste to food banks across the country. The excess food has accumulated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But a report in Politico says some of these companies have little experience in food distribution or working with food banks and farmers – raising concerns over whether they can meet the needs of the organizations they've been contracted to supply.

Helena Bottemiller Evich is a senior food and agriculture reporter for Politico. She told Texas Standard host David Brown that the companies that were awarded contracts by the USDA are assembling mixed boxes of produce, meat and dairy products to be delivered to food banks, many of which are struggling to meet increased demand during the pandemic.

Contractors are buying food from producers, providing income for them, as well as supporting food banks. Packaging the purchased food also saves work for the nonprofit food banks.

"Nonprofits like food banks often rely on elderly volunteers, and they can't be out there helping these food banks package all of this food for this insane increase in demand," Bottemiller Evich said.

But the companies who have won contracts to distribute food do not all have relevant experience. A San Antonio event and wedding planning firm received a $39 million contract. It's unclear whether the company has the experience to effectively carry out its food distribution work, the necessary cold storage facilities or the vehicles required to ship the food. Food deliveries that were supposed to begin May 15 have been pushed back until June.

"We're talking about tens of thousands of boxes every week," Bottemiller Evich said.

USDA faced enormous pressure to deal quickly with the food supply and demand mismatch. The agency put the program together in two weeks.

"There are a lot of questions about whether or not they fully vetted some of these companies they gave really large contracts to," Bottemiller Evich said. "We're finding companies that have absolutely no experience in this at all."

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.

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