EVANSVILLE, Ind., April 22 (UPI) -- A new federal program will buy $3 billion in food this year from American farmers who lost their markets to coronavirus-driven restrictions and distribute it to people who, for the same reason, are struggling financially.
"Farmers are dumping fresh produce, they're dumping milk, there's talk of euthanizing certain farm animals," Dave Tuckwiller, the deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Procurement Program, said in a webinar Tuesday that outlined the program for industry leaders.
"On the other side, food banks are seeing up to a 50 percent increase in participation, but also a reduction in donations and a reduction in volunteers," Tuckwiller said.
This program -- which is a part of the agency's new $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program -- will attempt to bridge that gap, he said.
The idea is for distributors to put together boxes of several types of produce, dairy items and meats that a food bank can give directly to individuals in need, Tuckwiller said.
"We've seen the pictures of the cars lined up at food banks," he said. "Ideally, what we'd like is a mutually agreeable, small quantity drop off where the boxes can go basically out of the truck and into the trunk."
Only fresh produce, dairy products and cooked chicken and pork are eligible for the program. The agency will pay producers and distributors for the food, but it will be up to the individual companies to decide where it will go and to deliver it.
General information on how to participate can be found on a USDA website that describes the agency's Food Box Distribution Program.
USDA also will continue to buy and distribute other types of food products through other programs, Tuckwiller said.
The agency plans to begin to award contracts to producers and distributors in May.
"During this time of national crisis, President Trump and USDA are standing with our farmers, ranchers and all citizens to make sure they are taken care of," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement announcing the new program Friday.
"This program will not only provide immediate relief for our farmers and ranchers, but it will also allow for the purchase and distribution of our agricultural abundance to help our fellow Americans in need," Perdue said.