The Department of Agriculture will funnel another $500 million to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program and plans to issue contracts for the fourth round of the program by the end of next week.

The program, which directs surplus commodities to food boxes for needy consumers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, has distributed about 110 million boxes of food since its inception earlier this year. The food distribution effort was launched as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which also included a program to provide direct payments to ag producers.

In a statement, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said he was “gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response to the Farmers to Families Food Box program from families, distributors, food banks, faith-based organizations and non-profits in communities across the country. … I’m very pleased that we are able to extend this program and continue our relief efforts for American farmers and families.”

Originally budgeted at $3 billion, President Donald Trump added another $1 billion to the program in August. Food purchases in the first three rounds of the program totalled just shy of $3 billion, according to USDA figures. Boxes distributed in the fourth wave of assistance will include combination boxes with produce, dairy products, fluid milk, and meat.

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A Department of Agriculture spokesperson tells Agri-Pulse the funding is available through "supplemental appropriations provided to the Secretary in the CARES Act," the legislation passed earlier this year that provided the funds for CFAP as well as a number of other programs created to ease the economy through the coronavirus. 

Industry groups have been largely supportive of the program and its effort to distribute surplus products unable to go to traditional restaurant and food service customers. National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern called the program “an effective benefit both for families needing assistance and for dairy farmers and processors providing high-quality products to those families via food boxes.”

Boxes in the fourth round of distribution are expected to be delivered from the beginning of November through the end of 2020.

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