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Fudge, Nutrition Subcommittee Members Demand Information, Documents from USDA on Mismanagement, Political Nature of Food Box Program

WASHINGTON (October 9, 2020) – House Agriculture Nutrition, Oversight, and Departmental Operations Subcommittee Chair Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio and her fellow members of the panel sent a letter Friday demanding answers from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on a range of issues and questions to which USDA has yet to respond to the Committee. In particular, Fudge and her fellow members raised concerns about the operation and implementation of USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, and in particular the political overtones of the initiative given news this week that Secretary Perdue has been found in violation of the Hatch Act by the Office of Special Counsel as a result of his actions promoting the program.

In light of Secretary Perdue’s violation of the Hatch Act, Chair Fudge and her fellow Subcommittee members formally requested in the letter all written and electronic correspondence between the White House and USDA, including correspondence concerning the placement of President Trump’s letters in the food boxes prior to distribution to determine what if any improper political activity those letters present.

“The Administration is clearly out of bounds with these political letters,” said Fudge. “We intend to find out what pressure was exerted on USDA to use hungry Americans to make such a political statement in the lead up to Election Day, and frankly, it’s disgusting for an Administration that has repeatedly tried to kick millions of working families and kids off SNAP to suddenly demand credit for feeding the hungry because it’s politically advantageous. That’s not what this program is for, and that’s a complete debasement of the mission of the Agriculture Department.”

In the letter, Fudge and her fellow Subcommittee members officially requested a range of materials related to oversight of the Farmers to Families Food Box program, many of which are outstanding requests to which USDA has yet to respond. These include information about the vendors and non-profits chosen to receive contracts and participate in the program; responses to official questions asked by the Subcommittee of USDA; the commitments made by each contractor for the delivery of food boxes; details on how contractors accomplish “last-mile” delivery of food boxes; information related to allegations that certain vendors misled USDA in the process of applying for contracts under the program; and how USDA plans to audit the program to confirm that food boxes were in fact delivered according to the contracts awarded.

“At every opportunity, the USDA has chosen to delay and hold up this Subcommittee’s review and oversight into this program, and has opted to politicize feeding hungry families in America,” Fudge and the lawmakers wrote, calling attention to several ways USDA is stonewalling the ability of the Subcommittee to review the operation of the program.

Furthermore, Fudge and her fellow Subcommittee members criticized USDA in the letter for the Department’s continued mismanagement of the program:

“In the first two rounds of FFFB contracts, USDA awarded multimillion-dollar contracts to companies with no prior food experience, with food banks reporting that some boxes of food contained spoiled food and that many contractors did not coordinate “last mile” distribution to deliver the boxes to hungry families,” wrote the lawmakers. “Instead of working with Congress to remedy these concerns, USDA threw another $1 billion into the program and managed to create even more problems for food banks, distributors, and hungry families.”

A full copy of the letter is available here.

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