The Emergency Food Assistance Program
Since the 1930's, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been buying farm products in an effort to stabilize and support the agricultural sector of the economy. This began as an outgrowth of federal agriculture policies designed to shore up farm prices and help American farmers suffering from the economic upheaval of the Great Depression. At that time many individual farmers lost their farms, while the total amount of farmland increased. Farmers planted more acreage to try and make up for poor prices- thus further depressing prices by increasing surpluses in a time of fallen demand. At the same time, millions of people in the cities lost their jobs and were without means of support for themselves and their families. The danger of malnutrition among children also became a national concern.
To bring stability into the marketplace, Congress passed P.L. 74-320 on August 24, 1935, also known as the Agriculture Act of 1935. Section 32 of the Act was the law that provided the basis for purchasing surplus commodities from farmers and donating them to federal domestic food programs. Essentially, it was the donations of these surplus foods that initiated the school lunch and other child feeding programs.
By 1981, as new commodity programs were being created, huge amounts of surplus foods were in storage around the United States and the warehousing costs were enormous. This massive amount of surplus USDA commodities, combined with a large increase in the demand for emergency food by agencies serving the poor, led to the establishment of a program to lower the amount of government-held commodities, reduce storage costs and help feed low-income households.
To add structure and provide administrative funds for the distribution program, Congress passed The Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Act in May 1983 (Public Law 98-8). Later that same year, Congress revised and extended the program through September 1985. TEFAP has been extended or reauthorized several times since through the Food Security Act of 1985, the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act of 1987, and the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988. Far-reaching program changes took place in the 1990 Farm Bill (PL 101-624). That legislation not only extended the program through Federal Fiscal Year 1995 but also dropped the word 'Temporary' from the title. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 built upon existing program growth and expansion by clarifying important TEFAP regulations, broadening allowable uses of TEFAP administrative funds and reducing paperwork burdens. The current U.S. Farm Bill, also known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, authorizes TEFAP and current Federal Regulations governing TEFAP are found in 7CFR, Part 251.
By late 1987 and early 1988, the supply of many surplus commodities such as cheese and butter had disappeared. To continue the food assistance program, Congress, in the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, approved not only administrative dollars but also gave USDA money to purchase a variety of commodities to be donated to TEFAP. That same Act also created the Soup Kitchen/Food Bank appropriation which assigned first priority to supplying commodities to soup kitchens and second priority to food pantries.
Illinois eliminated the mass distribution program in SFY'96. At the same time, the TEFAP and Soup Kitchen/Food Bank programs were combined to form the Emergency Food Program (EFP). The purpose of the EFP is to prevent hunger and help provide food security for low-income households and individuals. With the exception of surplus products, which may be distributed to any social service non-profit agency, the EFP restricts its limited resources to food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. It provides funding through an annual grant award rather than the pennies-per-pound reimbursement system used until SFY'96. The EFP includes the distribution of privately donated foods as an allowable program expense. The EFP believes this program structure enables agencies to provide their constituencies with the maximum service feasible within the limits set by the current federal program. While the EFP encourages the development of nutritional materials for participant use, the intent of the program is not to necessarily provide nutritionally balanced blends of USDA commodities. Since the Federal TEFAP Program is designed to support specific agricultural industries that are suffering from low prices, USDA commodities are accepted regardless of the nutritional balance of the products. The provision of free, high quality food, regardless of the nutritional balance of the offering, enables program participants to spend their food dollars on products not available at EFP food pantries.
The State of Illinois has designated the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) as the State agency responsible for administration of the EFP. Within DHS, the program is managed by the Division of Family and Community Services, Bureau of Basic Supports. The highly-efficient, direct shipping distribution methodology employed by DHS includes a partnership with eight (8) nonprofit, full-service Foodbanks - all of which are members of Feeding America and Feeding Illinois, the National and State Food banking Associations, and specialize in the storage, warehousing and distribution of large quantities of food commodities throughout Illinois. All Foodbanks are assessed by their administrative capacity, ability to receive and store food, the amount of privately donated and purchased (non-government) food they handle, geographic coverage capacity, distribution and delivery methodologies, and ability to adhere to allocation requirements, outreach, training and monitoring. The Foodbank network serves all 102 counties in Illinois through unduplicated, county-based service areas. The Foodbanks receive USDA commodities based upon 60% of the people in poverty and 40% of the unemployed people in its geographic service area relative to those figures for the entire State of Illinois. The Foodbanks, in turn, distribute USDA commodities and privately donated food to approximately 750 food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters throughout Illinois who directly serve households and individuals (commodity allocations to these sites are based on the number of individuals served by each site within each county). The Foodbank distribution network continues to work actively with the Department to support its mission to provide an emergency response to hunger and reduce food insecurity in Illinois.