Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Assessment of CFAP Sunset
The USDA announced that the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will sunset at the end of this month. Also known as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, CFAP represents 7.2 percent of the total food distributed by Good Shepherd Food Bank since the program began in May 2020. We distributed 118,544 CFAP food boxes, which totals 2,798,967 pounds of food. According to our assessment, the end of this program will have minimal impact on emergency food distribution in Maine.
A year after the onset of COVID-19, our statewide network of over 500 agency partners reported in an April 2021 survey that community needs have stabilized. Most of our partners are now feeling more prepared to fully meet the needs of their communities than at any other point in the pandemic.
Rural areas of the state hosted a higher number of CFAP truck-to-trunk food box distribution events, particularly Aroostook County. These distributions would often serve people who do not regularly access the local pantry programs. Lack of regular pantry use likely occurred because of the individual’s schedule or pantry’s hours of operation, rather than an emerging or pandemic-related increase in food insecurity. As such, the Food Bank is increasing the capacity of our work in Aroostook County to better support our partners and connect people with the resources they need to thrive.
The Food Bank’s inventory capability has also improved compared to the onset of the pandemic. Although more stable than a year ago, the availability of purchased products continues to be inconsistent due to supply chain challenges. The Food Bank’s donated product supply remains stable, which helps supplement the inconsistent availability of purchased products. Fresh, local produce will be sourced from various channels other than CFAP; Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers program is providing cheese, eggs, apples, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and rutabagas. As the 2021 growing season unfolds, the variety and quantity of local produce will increase. In addition, Feeding America is providing subsidies to support produce boxes from the regional food sourcing cooperative in Philadelphia, of which Good Shepherd is a member. These subsidized increases began the last week of April and include potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, onions, peppers, squash, and fruit when it is available.
While we are grateful that Mainers experiencing hunger during the pandemic had access to CFAP food boxes, there were many challenging program requirements, including distribution logistics, barriers to local vendors’ and producers’ participation, storage, expiration of mixed products, poor nutritional quality, and waste. A number of our agency partners already stopped utilizing the program because the quality was so poor. These organizations determined it was not worth spending their limited resources to receive, store, distribute, and ultimately dispose of the product. In addition, there were multiple rounds where pork products were included in all boxes, despite our requests to not include pork, resulting in many communities (including some of the communities most impacted by COVID-19) not being able to access the boxes.
Should the USDA continue to provide additional support to direct food distribution efforts, we strongly encourage the Department to leverage existing programs such as TEFAP to distribute the food. We would very much like to see the Department continue its commitment to supporting local food producers, however, we suggest partnering with state-based organizations to oversee the procurement as they are in the position to best leverage existing relationships.
Other federal nutrition programs introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are critical to meeting the needs of Mainers experiencing food insecurity. Increases to SNAP and the extension of Pandemic-EBT are the most effective, efficient, and dignified means to address hunger. Good Shepherd Food Bank will continue to advocate for these programs during and after the pandemic.
Amy Regan Gallant | Vice President of Public Policy & Research