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US farm agency to spend $2.3 billion on food programs as pandemic aid ends

By Leah Douglas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will spend $2.3 billion on food purchases for schools and food banks as the end of pandemic-era aid leads to rising food insecurity, the Department of Agriculture said on Friday.

Supplemental food aid for low-income families and schools tied to the COVID-19 pandemic has mostly expired. Food banks and other emergency food providers have reported near-record demand as food price inflation continues to strain household budgets.

“It’s important for the USDA to utilize (its resources) to be able to provide some level of relief from these challenging times,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a call with reporters.

The USDA will provide nearly $1.3 billion to states and territories for additional food purchases for school meal programs, which the agency said is needed due to the expiration of a 2022 law that temporarily increased funding to those programs.

It will also distribute nearly $1 billion to organizations like food banks and community kitchens for commodity purchases from U.S. farmers.

More than 12 million U.S. households reported picking up free groceries in a May 17 survey on food insufficiency by the U.S. Census Bureau, up 17% from a January survey, when the figure was about 10.4 million households.

Vilsack also said the USDA is making an additional $400 million in grants available to U.S. fertilizer producers, on top of a previously announced $500 million, to shore up domestic production as farmers weather price hikes in part due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The money comes from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, an entity funded by the U.S. Treasury to support the domestic farm economy.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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