Leahy, Sanders, Welch ask USDA to Buy Dairy Products for Emergency Distribution During COVID-19 Outbreak

Vermont’s Congressional Delegation — Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — Tuesday asked that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) make immediate purchases of dairy products and distribute them to low-income Americans through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

In a joint letter, Leahy, Sanders, and Welch said:  “COVID-19 will undoubtedly have widespread impacts on hunger and malnutrition.  It is likely that many Americans will be without work, unable to afford adequate nutrition, increasing the strain on the charitable food system across the nation.  Supplying local food banks with healthy dairy options will help ensure those in need receive critical nutrition during this challenging period.”

As food banks face a sharp increase in demand, experts are projecting that COVID-19 will cause significant disruptions for the dairy sector, including declining prices.  This is especially concerning in states like Vermont, where dairy farms are central elements of the rural economy.  Over the past 10 years, the United States has lost more than 17,000 dairy farms.  Meanwhile the dairy industry faces a consistent oversupply of dairy products that continues to drive prices below the cost of production.  This oversupply has led to vast amounts of dairy products in storage.  Just last year, the United States had stores of 1.4 billion pounds of cheese alone. As Congress considers measures to help blunt the economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, USDA already has authority and funding to provide additional relief.

“For these reasons, we request that USDA immediately exercise its Section 32 authority to purchase additional dairy products for distribution through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and to simplify and expedite its procurement process to ensure expeditious relief.  In order to provide the assistance needed for food banks and other hunger organizations to meet this unprecedented nutritional need within our communities, as well as to help support our struggling domestic dairy industry, we ask that you make these purchases as soon as possible,” they said in the letter.

Read the full letter here.