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The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

TEFAP is a cornerstone of the charitable food system. It helps ensure the Feeding America food bank network has enough food to provide to neighbors facing hunger.

What’s at Stake?

TEFAP is a federal nutrition program that moves food from farms to food banks to families facing hunger.

Through TEFAP, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchases nutritious food from U.S. growers and producers. Feeding America network food banks (and other emergency assistance organizations) then partner with states to distribute these USDA foods to eligible individuals and families.

TEFAP food purchases provide a win-win for food banks, farmers, and individuals and families facing hunger.

Food banks, pantries and other charitable food assistance programs have been providing a record response since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting 60 million individuals in 2020 and 53 million in 2021. This level of aid would not have been possible without USDA food purchases boosted by COVID recovery funding provided by Congress.

Today, the demand for emergency food assistance remains well above pre-pandemic levels. But in 2022 and 2023, food banks have struggled with a food supply crisis, sometimes resulting in empty shelves and coolers.

Food banks that participate in TEFAP receive additional USDA foods, also known as commodities, through other programs aimed at supporting U.S. agriculture. In the fall of 2022, USDA announced it would provide almost $1.5 billion in funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation for domestic food purchases to be distributed through TEFAP. An additional $1 billion in funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation was announced in the spring of 2023. These supplemental USDA foods will help address the perfect storm of supply chain disruptions, decreased food donations, increased food purchase and transportation costs, and continued higher demand that food banks are facing.

In addition to these much-needed investments, Feeding America urges state officials to identify other sources of funding, including unallocated federal funds, that they can immediately use to provide further emergency food assistance during this time of continued economic hardship for many families.

What’s Feeding America Doing?

TEFAP funding for food purchases is set by the farm bill every five years and, in emergencies, through other legislation. In the next farm bill, Feeding America calls on Congress to:

  • Increase TEFAP funding to help people facing hunger and support the U.S. agricultural economy. Congress should:
    • Reauthorize and double annual mandatory funding for TEFAP food purchases.i
    • Reauthorize and increase to $200 million in annual discretionary funding for TEFAP storage and distribution.
    • Reauthorize $15 million in annual discretionary funding for TEFAP infrastructure grants.
      • Storage and distribution funding and infrastructure grants will help food banks offset the cost of storing and transporting USDA foods, especially in rural communities. They will help cover expenses like refrigeration and fuel.
  • Bolster the TEFAP Farm to Food Bank Program.
    • Congress should increase funding for the TEFAP Farm to Food Bank Program, remove the state match, and allow states to prioritize projects for donated food or food purchased at a low cost from local growers and producers.

Learn more about feeding america’s farm bill priorities

 

Fast Facts

  • Between July 2021 and June 2022, the Feeding America food bank network received 1.24 billion pounds of food from TEFAP, providing over 1 billion meals to people facing hunger.
  • The Feeding America network is the largest TEFAP participant, with approximately 96% of Feeding America partner food banks receiving and distributing TEFAP foods in fiscal year 2022. Feeding America food banks receive TEFAP foods through their states and then distribute the food to local organizations, including food pantries, meal programs and shelters.
  • TEFAP is a hunger lifeline for rural communities, in particular. In 2020, Feeding America network food banks distributed TEFAP foods in 96% of rural counties, providing over 465 million pounds of food to neighbors facing hunger in rural areas.
  • States and the Feeding America network place food orders with USDA, which then works with the food industry to fulfill the orders. Each state is required to determine how TEFAP foods are distributed, and they oversee the agencies that distribute the food.
  • TEFAP offers more than 120 nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, milk, cheese, and whole-grain and enriched-grain products, such as rice, cereal and pasta.

References

i. Under Feeding America’s proposal, this would be around $920 million per year for TEFAP food purchases at current inflation levels. Feeding America’s proposal would double the base amount for mandatory TEFAP food purchases from $250 million to $500 million per year, adjusted annually for inflation. (Under current law, food purchases are authorized at $250 million per year, which has been adjusted annually for inflation since 2008. For fiscal year 2023, that inflation-adjusted funding amount was $445 million.)