USDA implored to continue waiver to safeguard food bank employees, volunteers, clients

The waiver eliminates the need for in-person verification of income eligibility for those receiving USDA Foods through TEFAP

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pleading for his continuance of Pennsylvania’s waiver for the need to collect client names and addresses and verify income eligibility for those receiving USDA Foods through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

“While we are working to reopen Pennsylvania amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we are one of just a handful of states reopening not experiencing a steady increase in our COVID cases,” said Redding. “We must continue every effort possible to continue protecting Pennsylvanians, as they do their part to save lives. This waiver is one way to continue protecting Pennsylvanians by not requiring both volunteers and clients of food banks to break social distancing simply to complete forms.”

Redding’s letter outlines that older adults overwhelmingly comprise those who work in or volunteer with the state’s more than 3,000 local food assistance agencies. Those working on the front lines to feed those in need are at a disproportionately higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19. The reality is, according to Redding, that if this waiver is dropped, the state’s intake of workers, volunteers and clients will not be able to maintain a 6-foot social distance.

“While we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to protect Pennsylvanians and make it easy for them to social distance, we also have a responsibility to feed those in need,” he said.

As a direct result of COVID-19, Pennsylvania’s charitable food system continues to experience stress from unprecedented demand. A survey of Feeding America member food banks in Pennsylvania revealed that they are seeing an average increase in demand of more than 50 percent since the pandemic began. In a state that normally serves approximately 2 million people annually through the emergency food response in all 67 counties, data collected since the end of March shows that Pennsylvania’s charitable food system has served more than 5.5 million people in just three months. Redding said allowing Pennsylvania’s food banks to forgo data collection for providing USDA Foods can help to alleviate further bottlenecks at food distributions, where lines are already long.

“I’m hopeful that Secretary Perdue will acknowledge the importance of this waiver to Pennsylvania’s overall health and well-being, as he has done before when we were in need, and we’ll have swift response and approval,” Redding said. “Throughout this pandemic, I continue to be grateful for our partners at the federal level who continue to support Pennsylvania’s work to combat COVID-19 and adjacent concerns, like hunger.”

Visit agriculture.pa.gov/COVID for more information.