USDA cuts red tape for Ohio food banks

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ohio national guard food bank
Ohio National Guard members distribute food at Struthers High School, March 27. National Guard members have been assisting food banks with distributions since COVID-19 began impacting food assistance programs. (photo courtesy of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley)

Ohio food banks got some needed relief April 7 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a waiver that will protect staff, volunteers and clients.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service approved Ohio’s request to run a Disaster Household Distribution Program through the Emergency Food Assistance Program. 

What that means is paperwork required to verify eligibility for the emergency food program is temporarily waived. 

“It will allow us to serve the large number of first-time clients seeking our help during this crisis without requiring close person-to person contact to collect items like name, address, household demographics and income verification,” the Ohio Association of Foodbanks said in a statement.

The Disaster Household Distribution Program allows USDA commodity foods to be included in distributions to families impacted by COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Pennsylvania received approval for the Disaster Household Distribution program March 27, after Gov. Tom Wolf wrote a strongly worded letter to the Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Food banks and pantries in Ohio and Pennsylvania have seen overwhelming demand the past month since many people found themselves suddenly jobless because of COVID-19 measures.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks requested $25 million in emergency funding from Ohio to help them meet the “immediate and unprecedented demand for food,” said Lisa Hamlet-Fugitt, executive director of the association.

“We have no choice but to sound the alarm,” Hamler-Fugitt said, during a media call April 3. “Our inventories are extremely low. We are running out of food faster than we ever imagined three weeks ago.”

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 468,414 initial unemployment claims from March 15-28. That’s more than all of the claims filed in 2019. Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment Compensation reported more than 1.1 million new unemployment claims since March 15.

Hamler-Fugitt said the coronavirus relief legislation recently passed by Congress is good, but those foods won’t make it to them until it’s too late.

“It takes 60-90 days for USDA commodities to get secured and delivered to our docks,” she said.

The Ohio Dairy Producers Association sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine April 6 in support of the ask for emergency funding.

“Milk is one of the most requested items for food banks, and this funding would allow the association to immediately procure nutritious milk and dairy products, as well as other food and essential items, needed by their 12 Feeding America Foodbanks and its pantry network of 3,600 local organizations throughout Ohio.” the letter read.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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