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CHLPI Blog

Biden to cancel Trump’s pandemic food aid after high costs, delivery problems

Originally written by and posted on Reuters on April 14, 2021.


CHICAGO (Reuters) -Yogurt was everywhere as volunteers opened boxes of fruit, frozen meat and dairy products that had shifted and spilled in transit to a food bank in Walworth County, Wisconsin.

They rushed to clean and transfer the packages of frozen meatballs, apples, milk and yogurt into cars for needy families to take home before they spoiled.

The food came from The Farmers to Families Food Box program that the Trump administration launched to feed out-of-work Americans with food rescued from farmers who would otherwise throw it away as the coronavirus pandemic upended food supply chains.

The government hired hundreds of private companies last spring to buy food no longer needed by restaurants, schools and cruise ships and haul it to overwhelmed food banks. But the program faced spilled and spoiled food, high costs and uneven distribution nationwide, according to interviews with food banks and distributors, and an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) invoice data obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Some of the companies charged the government more than double the program average while delivery to food banks was sometimes late. When the government contracted new vendors, some food banks relying on the program stopped receiving food at all. At the same time, the contractors delivered to churches or daycare centers that lacked adequate refrigeration.

“Food was abandoned to spoil,” said Susan Hughes, managing director of the Walworth County Food and Diaper Pantry.

The USDA spent $4 billion on the food box program in 2020 – six times its normal emergency food budget. After reviewing the program, President Joe Biden’s administration has decided not to continue it after May, USDA Communications Director Matt Herrick told Reuters.

Under newly appointed Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA is focused on different hunger initiatives, including expanding food stamp benefits and increasing food purchases through existing government food distribution programs, Herrick said.

“We’re not going to replace the program,” he said.

While food bank operators are thankful for the large volumes of fresh food from the food box program – and they stress that aid is still needed – many say far more families could have been fed by sticking to existing programs with proven quality and oversight.

Greg Ibach, USDA’s former undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs under the Trump administration, helped design the food box program in about a month. He said it worked as well as other USDA programs that took years to develop.

“We were in a hurry. People were hungry; there wasn’t food in grocery stores – if there was, they couldn’t afford it,” Ibach said. “We got a lot of food out the door and in peoples’ hands.”

HIGH COSTS, INCONSISTENT BOXES

When the food box program was rolled out in May 2020, the Trump administration touted it as a way of getting food to hungry Americans quickly. But by late June, the program fell short of delivery targets, Reuters reported. The government provided little guidance to food pantries and sometimes inexperienced distributors, who were often left to connect with one another on their own. [L1N2E91DJ]

After some states, including Montana and Nevada, received very little food early on, the Trump administration in June contracted with Gold Star Foods, a California-based school food distributor, to reach underserved areas, Gold Star’s CEO Sean Leer said in an interview.

Gold Star billed the government between $87 and $102 in October and November for food boxes containing fruit, meat and dairy products. That’s more than double the average of similar boxes from other companies at the time, according to USDA invoice data. Leer said the cost reflected the increase in food and freight prices during the pandemic supply chain disruption.

Leer said the company has at times delivered the food boxes at a loss. He noted that during the February cold snap in Texas, Gold Star sent food to the state from California because the weather caused supply problems in Texas.

Food delivered by Gold Star accounted for less than 2% of federal money spent on the food box program in 2020, though that will increase to just under 9% through April 2021, according to Reuters’ review of USDA invoice data.

Companies delivered food in varying quantities at first, making cost comparisons between different vendors difficult. But in September USDA standardized the food boxes at no more than 24 pounds after feedback from food banks.

From October through December, invoice data shows seven out of 105 companies, including Gold Star Foods, charged the government double the program’s median price per pound of food. Three of those companies were awarded contracts by the Trump administration for nearly $32 million in January 2021.

The Biden administration says some companies may have overcharged the USDA.

“There was an unequal cost associated with the distribution and filling of these boxes. Some people made a significant percentage from filling the boxes,” Vilsack said on a March 3 call with reporters.

The USDA specified food boxes delivered in 2021 to the continental U.S. cost between $27 and $48 per box. But cheaper boxes presented new challenges and put additional burdens on food banks, said Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. The lower-cost boxes contained lower quality food, and food companies at times refused to deliver them to smaller pantries, leaving local organizations scrambling to find extra money for delivery, she said.

RURAL AREAS LEFT OUT

Though some regional food banks have taken on the labor of delivering to multiple counties, most smaller food banks serve only one county. Deliveries to additional counties are at the expense of food banks, said Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank.

Reuters’ analysis of USDA data showed the program struggled in particular to reach rural counties. While cities and well-populated counties received millions of boxes of food, 896 counties – or nearly a third – received none, according to USDA data.

USDA’s Herrick said the Biden administration’s assessment of the program exposed problems in how the food aid was delivered.

“A lot of rural communities went unserved entirely,” he said.

Counties that did receive food worked with as many as a dozen food companies over seven months in 2020. Every six to twelve weeks, the USDA introduced a new phase of the program, changing food suppliers and forcing food banks to scramble to connect with new vendors or lose food supplies.

“USDA didn’t give (distributors) any guidance as to who to serve or keep serving,” said Harvard’s Broad Leib. “You can’t rely on something if one day it’s there, then the next day it’s not.”

Despite the program’s flaws, food banks say the nearly 133 million boxes of food delivered in 2020 averted an even greater crisis.

There are hungry Americans in nearly every city and county nationwide, said Kate Leone, senior VP of government relations at Feeding America, a national network of food banks. The organization estimates that about half of the children in some counties are food-insecure – worried about where their next meal might come from.

Food waste action plan calls for organics diversion infrastructure, compost market expansion

Originally written by Maria Rachal and published on Waste Dive on April 8, 2021.


Dive Brief:

  • An action plan to curb food loss and waste in the U.S. — pitched to Congress and the Biden administration this week by four organizations and supported by a host of cities, businesses and nonprofits — recommends funding infrastructure that keeps organic waste out of disposal sites by providing state- and city-level investments for measuring, rescuing and recycling it.
  • Led by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), ReFED and World Wildlife Fund, the plan also stipulates that federal facilities take steps to prevent organic waste and purchase finished compost products. The organizers urge lawmakers to spur growth of compost markets among private sector buyers as well. 
  • The plan calls for allocating $650 million annually through at least 2030 to states and cities for organic waste recycling infrastructure and other food waste reduction strategies. It also calls for $50 million for those cities and states to pursue public-private partnerships; $50 million in grants for research and innovation in the space; $3 million annually through 2030 for consumer food waste reduction research and behavior change campaigns; and $2 million to add personnel to the Federal Interagency Food Loss and Waste Collaboration.
 

Dive Insight:

The policy push highlights that up to 40% of food produced in the U.S. is lost or wasted, at an estimated cost of $408 billion per year. In turn, food is the single-largest input in landfills. The federal government in 2015 set a national goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030, but much policy ground remains.

The strategies in the five-point, eight-page action plan may not all represent novel approaches to food waste, but the time to package the policy priorities and get them in front of lawmakers is apt, organizers say.

That’s in part because of how the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated food insecurity in the U.S. Also, strategies to minimize food waste could align with the Biden administration’s stated priorities of investing in job-creating infrastructure improvements, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and seeking environmental justice.

It felt like “a perfect storm of opportunity,” said FLPC Director Emily Broad Leib, noting that addressing food waste garners bipartisan support, but the new administration means a moment of refresh.

Signatories to the policy outline include the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the US Composting Council and Vanguard Renewables.

Currently, city offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Madison, Wisconsin, have also formally supported the plan.

While the plan points to job creation, climate and food donation benefits that have resulted from more comprehensive organics laws in California, Massachusetts and Vermont, it also lays out a number of other individual steps local governments can take. They include mandating food scrap recycling, enacting pay-as-you-throw policies and increasing disposal tip fees by adding taxes per unit of trash.

According to Helena Rudoff, a project lead in Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability, local data collection on food waste and loss is one of the most important parts of the process, but cities often lack the capacity to fund waste audits, even on a five- to 10-year basis. “That’s a huge barrier in writing this policy on a municipal scale … but it’s really difficult to keep track of this data year to year,” Rudoff said.

Having more data on the waste stream “would be extremely useful in terms of writing policies that actually address keeping food waste out of our landfill stream,” Rudoff said. “It allows us to make arguments about cost savings, but also resource recycling that we’re missing out on by not having, say, curbside composting. So having the data is really the starting point, and unfortunately it’s pretty inaccessible right now.”

The federal government can lead by example, said Yvette Cabrera, food waste director at NRDC. In the same way that President Joe Biden in January issued executive orders directing federal agencies to transition to clean energy, the plan’s authors believe the executive branch could potentially mandate that federal agencies measure, rescue and recycle food scraps and food waste.

Taking lessons from NRDC’s multi-city food waste minimization initiative, Cabrera said cities often want curbside organics recycling, for instance, but they end up not having the funds to sustain the program or the buy-in to continue to have enough material to make it profitable. “If we were able to incentivize the development of infrastructure that would enable larger-scale composting, I think that that would significantly help cities and states that are interested in this,” and enable regional collaboration.

On compost, authors recommend that the U.S. Department of Agriculture develop a marketing campaign to increase demand for finished compost and expand appropriations for municipal compost and food waste reduction pilot projects, among other suggestions.

There were no mentions of organics infrastructure in President Biden’s wide-reaching infrastructure plan unveiled last week. But the architects of the food waste action plan expect their proposals could end up in a variety of other policy vehicles, like any climate bills, or the next farm bill or child nutrition reauthorization, FLPC’s Broad Leib said.

Other sections of the plan call for policy supporting date labeling on food that distinguishes between peak use date and how long it’s fine to donate; expanding tax deduction benefits and strengthening liability protections tied to food donations; strengthening regional supply chains; passing the School Food Recovery Act; funding research and awareness campaigns to cut consumer food waste; and eliminating barriers to feeding food scraps to animals. 

Harvard Research Identifies Policy Recommendations to Support Food Donation Across Five Continents

Amid pandemic and rising rates of food insecurity, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and The Global FoodBanking Network address global food waste and hunger crisis.


In response to food waste, climate change, and a global hunger crisis that is further fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas makes recommendations to address critical gaps identified while mapping existing food donation laws and policies across the world. As more countries join the fight to address these global challenges, research from The Atlas project, which is produced by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and The Global FoodBanking Network, is now available for 14 countries: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Atlas project, supported by the Walmart Foundation, examines six major legal issues that impact food recovery: food safety for donations, date labeling, liability protection for food donations, tax incentives and barriers, government grants and funding, and food waste penalties or donation requirements. The Atlas project compares the legal frameworks impacting these issue areas across participating countries and provides policy recommendations for countries to overcome common barriers to food donation. The results have sparked dialogue among country leaders who are now drawing on best practices from other countries to inform their own food recovery policy development. 

“Hunger is a long-standing and completely solvable problem made worse by the pandemic. We produce more food globally than we need to feed all those suffering from hunger. There is no time better than now to implement policies and laws that eliminate senseless barriers to food donation and align incentives to encourage this beneficial practice,” said Emily Broad Leib, clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and director of FLPC. “We have heard from policymakers around the world who are using the Atlas analyses and recommendations to inform efforts in their home countries. We hope that our research empowers our food bank partners and their community allies and encourages more governments to systematically work toward closing the gap between surplus food and rates of food insecurity.”

“The Global FoodBanking Network is honored to be a partner in this important research identifying policy solutions to stem food loss and waste and promote food recovery for hunger relief,” said Lisa Moon, president and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network. “Food banks are a community-based solution to effectively redirect safe, wholesome surplus food to people in need. With more than 1 billion tons of food wasted each year, the Atlas offers stakeholders a policy roadmap for greater food security and sustainability.” 

One-third of food produced across the globe is lost or wasted, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, while global hunger persists at crisis levels exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Atlas project addresses this asymmetry while contributing important knowledge to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which includes zero hunger, good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.

“Walmart Foundation has a long-standing commitment to increasing access to healthier foods in communities around the world and we are pleased to support the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas, because of its potential to accelerate effective and sustainable solutions,” said Eileen Hyde, Director of Sustainable Food Systems and Food Access for Walmart.org. “This project provides not only groundbreaking research to address the complexity of public policy relating to food donations, but it also presents clear opportunities to improve how surplus food gets to communities that need it.”  

An interactive map, Legal Guides, Policy Recommendations, and Executive Summaries for 14 countries are available at atlas.foodbanking.org.

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ABOUT THE HARVARD LAW SCHOOL FOOD LAW AND POLICY CLINIC
The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) serves partner organizations and communities by providing guidance on cutting-edge food system issues, while engaging law students in the practice of food law and policy. FLPC’s work focuses on increasing access to healthy foods, supporting sustainable production and regional food systems, promoting community-led food system change, and reducing waste of healthy, wholesome food. FLPC is committed to advancing a cross-sector, multi-disciplinary and inclusive approach to its work, building partnerships with academic institutions, government agencies, private sector actors, and civil society with expertise in public health, the environment, and the economy. For more information, visit http://www.chlpi.org/flpc/.

ABOUT THE GLOBAL FOODBANKING NETWORK
The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is an international nonprofit organization that nourishes the world’s hungry through uniting and advancing food banks in more than 40 countries. GFN focuses on combating hunger and preventing food waste by providing expertise, directing resources, sharing knowledge, and developing connections that increase efficiency, ensure food safety, and reach more people facing hunger. In 2019, GFN member food banks recovered over 900 million kilograms of food and grocery product and redirected it to feed 16.9 million people through a network of more than 56,000 social service and community-based organizations. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, member food banks have served more than 27 million people facing hunger. For more information, please visit www.foodbanking.org

ABOUT THE WALMART FOUNDATION
By using our strengths to help others, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation create opportunities for people to live better every day. Walmart has stores in 28 countries, employing more than 2.3 million associates and doing business with thousands of suppliers who, in turn, employ millions of people. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are helping people live better by accelerating upward job mobility for the retail workforce; addressing hunger and making healthier, more sustainably-grown food a reality; and building strong communities where we operate. We are not only working to tackle key social issues, but we are also collaborating with others to inspire solutions for long-lasting systemic change. To learn more about Walmart’s giving, visit giving.walmart.com.

 

 

Webinar Review: “The Impact of Date Labels on Food Waste, Food Recovery and Donation”

This post was written by Kerensa Gimre with support from Regina Paparo and Ata Nalbantoglu, FLPC clinical students.


Highlights

  • Date labels should utilize that dual date label scheme that clearly distinguishes between quality-based and safety-based labels
  • Consumer and business education about the meaning of date labels is critical to reducing food waste and encouraging food donation.
  • Recent momentum on climate change and sustainability offers an opportunity to engage policymakers on food waste, including date labels.

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), in partnership with The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) and Food Systems for the Future, virtually convened policymakers on March 25 to discuss the role of date labels in impacting food waste, food recovery, and donation. The meeting was part of a series of webinars organized under the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas project, a joint partnership between FLPC and GFN, with support from the Walmart Foundation. Featuring select government officials and food donation experts from around the world, the webinar explored concerns, best practices, and policy considerations to encourage the adoption of standardized date labeling to limit food waste and promote food recovery and donation.

Date labels affixed to food products are a significant driver of food waste and an obstacle to food donation. In many countries, date labeling regulations do not distinguish between quality-based and safety-based labels, contributing to confusion over whether food can be safely distributed or consumed after the date. It is not clear to food businesses, food donors, consumers, and regulators whether the date label accompanied by language such as “sell by,” “use by,” “expires on,” or “best before” relates to freshness or to food safety. The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas has found that questions and confusion regarding date labels are critical legal and policy issues impacting the donation and utilization of safe, surplus food.

Moderated by Ertharin Cousin, CEO and Founder of Food Systems for the Future, the webinar explored key issues regarding date labeling laws and policies. Panelists discussed the importance of regulation and the necessity of educating consumers on date labels to reduce food waste and encourage the donation of safe, surplus food. Tom Heilandt, Secretary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), elaborated the date labeling standards provided under the Codex’s General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods. Revised in 2018, the Codex Standards are international voluntary, non-binding standards—the Labeling Standard provides for a dual date labeling scheme in which all products would be labeled with only a quality-based date label or a safety-based date label. However, in many countries, existing labeling policies do not align with this voluntary, non-binding standard.

Panelists also described country date labeling policies, including challenges and best practices for countries considering a dual-date labeling scheme. Pernille Lundquist Madsen, the Deputy Head of the Chemistry and Food Quality Division at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and Denmark’s representative on the Codex Committee on Food Labelling, noted that Denmark, like the rest of the European Union, adopted a dual date labeling scheme, that allows food to bear only one of two date labels – a safety-based “use by” date label, or a quality-based “best before” date label. Estelle Herszenhorn, Special Advisor for Food at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in the United Kingdom (U.K.), noted that to reduce food waste and encourage redistribution of surplus food, WRAP has developed best practice guidelines for food date labeling and storage advice and guidance on labeling and redistribution of food – to promote redistribution of food near to or beyond the best before dates. She also highlighted that as part of the U.K. commitment to reducing food waste, they have enshrined the food waste hierarchy into law.  

Representative Chellie Pingree, U.S. Representative for Maine’s 1st Congressional District, discussed efforts to standardize date labels in the U.S. Currently, each state decides whether or how to regulate date label language, leading to patchwork regulations and consumer confusion. Moreover, both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have overlapping authority over food safety. Proposed legislation introduced by Rep. Pingree would adopt a dual date labeling scheme, requiring food to bear only a “Best If Used By” date for quality or a “Use By” date for foods that increase in safety risk past the date.

Global data show that consumers mistakenly interpret date labels as indicators of safety rather than quality. This lack of clarity and the ensuing confusion about date labels further stifles food donations. Panelists underscored the need for comprehensive education campaigns targeted at food donors, consumers, and health officials to promote awareness about the meaning of date labels. Estelle Herszenhorn discussed the U.K.’s efforts to promote consumer awareness, mainly through the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, which provides education on date labels and other methods of minimizing food waste in the home. Pernille Lundquist Madsen discussed Denmark’s TooGoodToGo, an innovative application that raises consumer awareness about date labels and connects consumers with unsold, surplus food. Representative Pingree highlighted the USDA’s FoodKeeper App that helps consumers understand food and beverage storage to maximize freshness and reduce food waste.

Also, in many countries, it is unclear for food banks and food recovery organizations whether it is safe to distribute past-date food. Many food donors interpret date labels affixed to food products as indicators of safety and will, therefore, throw away food once the date has passed; intermediaries may also refuse to accept donated food after this date, thinking that the food product is unfit for human consumption. Estelle Herszenhorn stressed the importance of governments making it clear what food can be sold and donated after the quality-based date label to counter these concerns, as the UK has done. Pernille Lundquist Madsen noted that since 2014, Denmark allows the sale or donation of food after the “best before” date.

Finally, the policymakers highlighted that recent public interest in climate change and sustainability provides an opportunity to engage consumers in a conversation on food waste, date labels, and how they intersect with sustainability. These remarks demonstrated that meaningful date labeling laws have the potential to reduce food waste and support greater food donation. A strong date labeling policy clearly differentiates between quality-based and safety-based labels and provides explicit permission to donate food past a quality-based date. A detailed companion issue brief on best practices regarding date labeling standards to reduce food waste is forthcoming. FLPC and GFN welcome the continuation of a critical and open conversation. FLPC will resume the sessions in the Fall with a focus on food safety for donations and taxes. FLPC invites government officials and policymakers from international and multilateral organizations to reach out for further information at flpc@law.harvard.edu.

The American Rescue Plan: What it Does for Agriculture and Nutrition

Written by Minnie Che, FLPC research assistant


A $1.9 trillion stimulus package, called the American Rescue Plan, has been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden. Even before passage of this legislation, there were many changes afoot in the food and agricultural response to COVID-19. Upon taking office, President Biden increased the funding for Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) by 15% in order to combat child food insecurity during a time when many schools are still remote.[1] He also signed an order requesting the USDA to increase SNAP benefits, noting that the boost from the December stimulus bill was not enough.[2] Additionally, Biden signed an executive order that directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover the entire cost for states and local governments to partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare meals for soup kitchens and food pantries, rather than requiring the local government to provide matching funding, as was done earlier in pandemic.[3]

Despite swift executive actions, President Biden acknowledged that more must be done to mitigate the economic crisis and worked with Congress to enact a $1.9 trillion plan that includes $360 billion for state, local and tribal governments and $130 billion to schools and $40 billion to universities. The bill allocates $47 billion to FEMA to use towards vaccine distribution, $50 billion for testing and tracing, and an additional $26 billion for other distribution chains for the vaccine and medical supplies.[4] It also provides $10.4 billion for agriculture.[5]

Direct payment, unemployment benefits, and tax credits

One key aspect of the American Rescue Plan was the inclusion of new stimulus checks, which will deliver $1,400 directly to taxpayers who make $75,000 or less annually – or $112,500 for single parents and $150,000 for couples. Payments will phase out for salaries starting at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples filing jointly.

The bill will also extend weekly unemployment benefits of $300 through September 6, 2021, and the first $10,200 of unemployment payments from 2020 would be tax-free for individuals making less than $150,000.

$143 billion will be distributed to expand three tax credits: the child tax credit, the earned-income tax credit, and the child and dependent care tax credit.

Nutrition Assistance

With $1.15 billion allotted, the American Rescue Plan will continue the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act) through September of this year. This is a provision that the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) advocated for in its federal policy recommendations published May of 2020.[6] SNAP helps both low-income households mitigate food insecurity and fuels the economy. Approximately 40% of the additional benefits will go to households earning below 50% of the federal poverty line, with nearly ⅔ of those households having children.[7] $25 million will go to expand the ability for vendors to participate in SNAP online sales and improve its technological implementation.[8] This provision was adopted from the Expanding SNAP Options Act, on which the FLPC assisted and supported to implement online SNAP to all states and expand retailers authorized to accept SNAP online. [9]

$880 million is provided for investment in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC has been unable to reach all eligible populations of women and children because of its lack of modernization, such as online applications or video appointments. Funds invested in WIC will go towards expanding the program’s reach for all those who qualify. The USDA secretary has the authority to temporarily increase the value of cash vouchers, used for WIC participants to purchase supplemental fruits and vegetables, up to $35 per month for a four-month period during the pandemic.[10]

P-EBT will get $5 billion to maintain and expand its program, which has helped families provide breakfast and lunch for children who would have received meals at school but are currently not, due to remote learning.

Low-income seniors will be provided with $37 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, with a total of $1.4 billion in funding going towards programs under the Older Americans Act, which includes nutrition programs, community-based support programs, and the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

Another $1 billion will be directed toward U.S. territories to fund additional nutrition assistance. Territories like Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands receive a capped block grant (called the Nutritional Assistance Program, or NAP) rather than SNAP, putting low-income residents at greater risk during the pandemic if the programs are unable to expand with increased need.[11]

The act also allots $500 million for rural healthcare efforts, which includes vaccine distribution and nutrition assistance for vulnerable individuals.[12]

Agriculture

The USDA will be provided $3.6 billion to go towards supporting food supply chains that have been impacted by the pandemic, with language similar to that included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act that went to support ongoing operations of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.[13] Other agricultural and food chain assistance include $300 million for monitoring efforts of SARS-CoV-2 in animals and $100 million to reduce fees associated with federal inspections of small meat, poultry, and egg processing facilities.

One of the most notable provisions is that $4 billion will go towards providing debt relief, grants, training, and other forms of land assistance to socially-disadvantaged farmers, a quarter of whom are Black. A socially disadvantaged farmer is one who has been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudices because of their identity as a member of a group without regard to their individual qualities.[14] Due to systemic racism and discrimination in regards to credit and loans, Black farmers have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland, mainly since the 1950s.[15] Some are touting this as the most significant piece of legislation for black land ownership in the country.[16] An additional $1 billion will be directed towards land grant institutions and other organizations that give assistance to farmers of color.

Industry and Restaurants

The bill includes $7.25 billion for small-business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. It also supports restaurants specifically through $25 billion allotted to the Small Business Administration to fund a new grant program for food and beverage establishments. Potential grants go up to $10 million per institution and $5 million per physical location, limited to chains with a maximum of 20 locations. Of those funds, $5 billion is set aside to target businesses with less than $500,000 in revenue in 2019, and there is another $1.25 billion going towards the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.[17]

What amendments did not make it in the final bill?

The Senate parliamentarian did not approve the efforts to use the reconciliation process for inclusion of the minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025. Without being allowed to use reconciliation to pass this provision, Democrats would have needed 60 votes to pass the amendment. It was thus excluded from the Senate bill altogether. Alternatives were also proposed, including Sen. Josh Hawley’s three-year program, funded by taxpayer dollars, where those making below $16.50 per hour would receive a refundable tax credit worth 50% of the difference.

Other provisions recommended in FLPC’s policy brief but that were not enacted in this relief plan include expanding SNAP vendors to include restaurants to benefit both SNAP participants and bring economic relief to restaurant owners. To further this, Congress would need to modify the definition of food and food service establishments. FLPC also recommended that Congress temporarily remove the prohibition against using SNAP benefits for “hot foods or hot food products ready for immediate consumption” in 7 U.S.C. 2012(k) to promote greater food security. FLPC’s policy brief advocated for expanding the enhanced tax deduction for food donation to include transportation costs associated with food donations, offering tax credit for farmers donating food, and expanding liability protection for food donations. Eliminating the “no charge” requirement for liability protection for donated foods delivered by non-profits would help these organizations reinvest needed funds back into their mission.

The FLPC brief highlighted a need to protect farmworkers and other food workers delivering essential services. Some of its recommendations towards achieving this goal that were not included in the latest stimulus package included providing undocumented immigrants with all the benefits accorded by Congress in response to Covid-19 and a pathway to citizenship. Additionally, workers should be paid short-term sick leave and long-term family and medical leave regardless of status. And lastly, the brief also suggested that Congress should support employers paying essential food workers a premium wage or hazard pay during COVID by subsidizing their wages.  


[1]https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2021/01/22/biden-administration-expands-p-ebt-benefit-millions-low-income-and
[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-stimulus-check-executive-order-food-stamps-minimum-wage/
[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/05/biden-moving-forward-with-food-assistance-ahead-of-stimulus.html
[4] https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-new-in-the-third-covid-19-stimulus-bill-11615285802
[5] https://www.fb.org/market-intel/whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021-for-agriculture
[6]https://www.chlpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/FLPC-Policies-v4.pdf?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=ca0ab850-ff82-46d7-b541-be6ac41d5762
[7]https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/food-assistance-in-president-bidens-covid-relief-plan-would-reduce
[8] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/10/covid-relief-snap-benefits-extended-increased-food-assistance.html
[9] https://www.chlpi.org/expanding-snap-options/
[10]https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/09/974841565/heres-whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-as-it-heads-toward-final-passage
[11]https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/food-assistance-in-president-bidens-covid-relief-plan-would-reduce
[12] https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/key-health-provisions-in-the-american-8826516/
[13] https://www.fb.org/market-intel/whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021-for-agriculture
[14] https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs141p2_029652.pdf
[15] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/08/reparations-black-farmers-stimulus/
[16] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/08/reparations-black-farmers-stimulus/
[17]https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/09/974841565/heres-whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-as-it-heads-toward-final-passage

India’s FSSAI admirably prioritises food donation — new labels and laws can help

Originally posted on The Times of India on April 5, 2021.


Emily Broad Leib teaches law at Harvard University. Researching food policies across 14 nations, she discusses important findings with Times Evoke, including what India is doing right in minimising food wastage — and what can be further shored up:

I run an educational program for law students on food systems. We think of how laws can be changed to remove barriers and align policies to more sustainable systems. We research tools governments can use to incentivise and require producers to adopt environmentally sustainable behaviour. The food system has a massive impact on the environment. Every step, from production to consumption, releases emissions including methane from livestock and CO2 from ploughing and tilling—all this is exacerbated when we waste food.

 

Globally, the FAO estimates we waste one-third of the food we produce. In the US, we waste about 40% and India is also moving towards that now. This is worrying as the IPCC on climate change finds food waste creates upto 10% of global climate change-related emissions. That includes production and wasted food releasing methane in landfills. There is therefore a triple bottom line benefit to reducing food waste.

 

Over the last two years, we’ve been analysing food policies across 14 nations. Diverse factors shape waste — in the US, some food gets wasted post-harvest because of the aesthetics of food production. If an apple is considered ‘imperfect’ and farmers know it won’t meet the standards of purchasers, it gets thrown away. Around 80% of food waste occurs in retail, food service and consumer households. Due to American farm policies, food is cheaper now than it’s ever been in history — this makes it easy for many people to not value it enough. Another causal factor is the relatively low cost of landfilling. That’s why in the US, 22% of landfill volume is just food.

 

Yet, many people are in dire need today — over 50 million Americans regularly use food banks now. However, there are barriers limiting food donation in the States, including a lack of awareness about food safety rules. In contrast, in India, I’ve noted a growing trend around the donation particularly of prepared food. Our researchers spent time with groups like Zomato Feeding India — they have a network of volunteers recovering food from universities, weddings and events which have cooked rice, lentils, etc., that can be safely donated. There is less donation of packaged foods and more of cooked food. It’s the opposite in the US. India also does very well with its Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) — it’s one of the few countries in fact where the food safety agency considers it among its duties to ensure edible food is donated and not wasted. In most countries, the ministry of social welfare could be interested but not the food safety authority — I am very impressed by the effort and energy India’s FSSAI puts into this.

But, even in India, a lot of food gets thrown away because of low-cost landfills. This impacts food prices too. In the US, grocery stores plan for 15% of ‘shrink’ — food brought to the store but thrown away instead of being sold. This is baked into the cost of food, which in aggregate increases. New laws can change this. In the US, some states have structured laws penalising sending over a certain amount of food waste to a landfill — Vermont has seen a 60% increase in food donations due to this. Massachusetts has seen a 22% increase. It’s also created hundreds of new jobs in food banks, food to energy and composting schemes.

 

Labels make a difference too. Often, consumers discard edible food because the date on it has passed — but frequently, that date doesn’t relate to food safety. Shelfstable products like a box of crackers might not taste as crisp but there may be no risk to eating these. We need a role model policy indicating which date is about the quality and taste of food and which date is about food safety — standardising these could eliminate 4,00,000 tons of food from US landfills and create a 2.4 billion dollar benefit. The UK is doing really well with required labels, ‘best before’ indicating no safety risks and ‘use by’ for safety risks. We’d recommend India also standardises its food labelling.

A HUNGER FOR PERFECTION? In some food systems, edible fruit is discarded simply for not meeting ‘aesthetic standards’

Globally, food donors need better safeguards and more benefits like tax reliefs and CSR coverage to include food. Certificates, rewards and recognitions would incentivise many more people too. We need all this because the phenomenon itself is invisible — it’s easy to throw food away since it goes somewhere else and you’re not thinking about it. Most government policies have also focused on food safety and supporting farmers so far. But now, many people are thinking about food waste, especially linked to climate change and hunger. We’re seeing much more discussion across countries on mitigation strategies — for those working to stop food waste, this is a time of hope.

US Food Loss & Waste Policy Action Plan Targets Congress & Biden Administration

As the federal government eyes climate policy, advocates issue call to action to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030.

Each year, between 30-40% of all food in the United States is unsold or uneaten. Most becomes food waste, heading straight to landfill, incineration, down the drain, or left in the fields—all while millions face hunger and our ecosystems are degraded. Addressing this challenge is essential to building a regenerative and resilient food system that helps to mitigate climate change, reverse nature loss, and feeds more people.

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), ReFED, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), with support from companies, NGOs, and other stakeholders are calling on Congress and the Biden administration to take ambitious action to achieve the goal of cutting US food loss and waste in half by 2030, through five key actions:

  1. Invest in the infrastructure to measure, rescue, recycle, and prevent organic waste from entering landfills and incinerators.
  2. Expand incentives to institutionalize surplus food donation and strengthen regional supply chains.
  3. Assert the US Government’s leadership on FLW globally and domestically.
  4. Educate and activate consumers via private and public food waste behavior change campaigns.
  5. Require a national date labeling standard.

“We know that food loss and waste has major environmental, economic, and social implications,” said Emily Broad Leib, faculty director of FLPC and professor of law at Harvard Law School. “The U.S. Food Loss and Waste Action Plan outlines critical solutions to ensure government spending and incentives are aligned on benefiting these areas, including climate change and food insecurity. There is an urgent need for the federal government to implement structural reforms through law and policy to better enable food waste reduction along all aspects of the food supply chain, and we encourage Congress and the Biden administration to start with the recommendations brought forth by our coalition.”

Many organizations have made significant progress on the issue of food loss and waste, but we can move faster with the full backing of the US government,” said Pete Pearson, senior director of food loss and waste at WWF. “We need investment in the infrastructure necessary for diversion—to keep good food from going to landfill—which will yield immediate environmental and social benefits. But we must also focus on preventing waste in the first place, meaning investments that fully commit to measuring the problem at scale. The US can and should show leadership here, implementing game-changing solutions for the rest of the world to emulate.” 

“Food waste is at the intersection of many of our nation’s most pressing problems including climate change, hunger, health, and racial inequity— all which require bold federal action,” said Yvette Cabrera, food waste director at NRDC. “Solutions to tackle food loss and waste already exist and have been implemented across the country, but more needs to be done. The federal government is uniquely positioned to advance these efforts and create widespread change that will help reach our climate goals and build a more just and equitable future. We urge Congress and the Biden-Harris administration to address this problem and fix the long-standing social and environmental issues in our food system.”

“Government is the critical linchpin in the fight against food waste,” said Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED. “Policy can create an environment that accelerates the adoption of food waste reduction solutions at a large scale. By incentivizing food practices, penalizing bad behavior, or clarifying what activities are allowed, each policy has the power to spark the food system into action.”

To learn more and read the complete Action Plan, visit FoodWasteActionPlan.org.

Drug-price negotiation proposals could clear Senate rules

Originally written by Erin Durkin and posted on National Journal on April 1, 2021.


Policy experts say measures allowing government negotiation of drug prices for Medicare could get past Senate restrictions.

Democrats may be teeing up provisions to let the U.S. government negotiate prices for prescription drugs in one of their next major legislative packages.

But with Republicans staunchly against measures to allow the Health and Human Services secretary negotiate drug prices, Democrats will likely have to turn to a legislative vehicle that can circumvent Republican opposition.

If Democrats take this route, the proposal would have to clear arcane and strict Senate rules first or risk being knocked out of the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has floated including drug-pricing provisions as part of the forthcoming infrastructure package, while Sen. Bernie Sanders has reportedly pressed for their inclusion in a reconciliation bill.

A reconciliation bill would allow Senate Democrats to pass these provisions with just a simple majority–effectively, along party lines. In order to accomplish this, their proposals need to meet strict parameters for budget reconciliation legislation.

The restrictions, also known as the Byrd Rule, dictate that legislation must have a budget impact that isn’t considered merely incidental to the provisions and doesn’t increase the deficit beyond the “budget window.”

Policy experts told National Journal that depending on the details, Democrats could have a decent chance of getting a proposal through the process that would allow Medicare to negotiate high drug prices. The proposals would likely need to provide other tools along with negotiating power in order to have an actual budgetary impact and make it past the Byrd Rule.

When the drug benefit was established under Medicare in 2003, known as Part D, lawmakers included a clause barring the government from negotiating drug prices for the program.

The Congressional Budget Office in 2019 said that negotiating drug prices alone would not yield substantial savings. “Negotiation is likely to be effective only if it is accompanied by some source of pressure on drug manufacturers to secure price concessions,” the report said.

Edwin Park, a research professor at Georgetown University, said both the House Democratic proposal, known as H.R. 3, and a separate plan from Sanders setting up a negotiation process for Medicare include tools that would help result in potential savings.

“The secretary could negotiate, but without either fallbacks or minimum discounts or rebates, or the ability to impose a preferred drug list, or other types of formulary requirements, then it wouldn’t produce savings,” said Park.

“Just striking those words might not have a budgetary impact and therefore might not survive the Byrd Rule,” he added.

The drug price negotiation program proposed in H.R. 3 could potentially clear the Byrd Rule, according to Rachel Sachs, an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Under the proposal, the HHS secretary would be required to negotiate the prices for certain drugs so that they do not exceed 120 percent of the average price from selected countries. Medicare Part D would be required to use this price and it would be available to insurers in the commercial market. It does not repeal the non-interference clause but amends the law to allow for the price-negotiation process.

“Since we’re talking about governmental expenditures and federal payers, then I think the budgetary effect is clear,” said Sachs. “The question is whether we would be able to expand the reach of that negotiation provision far beyond federal payers, and that would be a Byrd question, but I think as it relates to Medicare and Medicaid, there’s no question that we’re talking about federal government spending and expenditures.”

Pelosi said during a March 23 event celebrating the anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act that lawmakers are contemplating including parts of the H.R. 3 legislation in an infrastructure package. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the drug-price-negotiation piece of H.R. 3 would save $448 billion for Medicare.

“One of the considerations that members are discussing is whether we have aspects of H.R. 3 … If we were able to do that, we could save almost half a trillion dollars, almost $450 billion,” said Pelosi during the event hosted by advocacy group Protect Our Care.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is concerned that their industry will end up funding Democratic projects.

“Threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs, jeopardizing access to medicines, and upending an innovative biopharmaceutical industry to pay for unrelated government programs is the wrong approach,” said PhRMA spokesperson Brian Newell. “This is an irresponsible scheme—particularly as we continue to combat a deadly pandemic—and we hope policy makers reject it and work together with us on real solutions.”

The Sanders bill would strike the language from statute that bars the government from negotiating drug prices and would direct the secretary to negotiate the prices of drugs for Medicare Part D that are considered high-cost. If negotiations fail, fallback prices would be based on what other federal agencies and certain foreign countries pay.

But the popularity of H.R. 3 and the massive CBO score may make the House bill attractive to leadership, said Phil Waters, staff attorney for the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School.

“I think Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer] would be looking to that giant CBO number right now as they’re trying to put together the next budget resolution and reconciliation instructions,” he said.

“They need to find some way to pay for what they want to spend,” he said. “One of the things that you saw in the last reconciliation packages is that a lot of the health things were temporary, because if you want to make changes to an entitlement program permanent, you have to find a permanent offset for it or some way to pay for it.”

Expert panel issues recommendations for addressing cancer inequities

Originally posted on Mirage News on March 29, 2021


  • Recommendations stem from conference of National Cancer Institute and Comprehensive Cancer Center representatives
  • Recommendations call for enhanced community partnerships and higher priority for community-outreach efforts

New recommendations co-developed by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute call for a significant expansion of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers to understand the causes of inequities in cancer care and a commitment to building sustained community partnerships to reduce them.

The recommendations, published in the March issue of the journal Health Equity, are based on a 2019 “listening session” in which representatives from the NCI, comprehensive cancer centers, and the broader cancer community discussed current efforts to address disparities in cancer care and how they can be strengthened. A separate paper on that meeting appears in the March Health Equity.

“Events of the past year have brought renewed attention to issues of health equity – how we think about the ways that structural racism, income disparities, and geographic location, affect the care that people receive,” said Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, faculty director for cancer care equity at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the senior author of the two papers. “In recent years the NCI has moved to strengthen the requirements for comprehensive cancer centers around community outreach and engagement. The 2019 meeting was organized as a conversation between the comprehensive cancer centers and the NCI about what measures have worked in the past and how they can be made more effective in the future.”

The nation’s 51 Comprehensive Cancer Centers are certified by the NCI for their expertise in laboratory, clinical, and population-based research. In addition to initiating clinical trials of novel therapies, they’re also required to conduct outreach and education programs and inform the public and healthcare professionals about research and treatment advances. Institutions designated as Comprehensive Cancer Centers receive grants from the NCI to support these efforts.

The 2019 meeting identified five major opportunities for the NCI and Comprehensive Cancer Centers to improve the impact of their community outreach programs:

  • Adopt an explicit focus on health equality, prioritizing efforts with the greatest potential impact
  • Understand and address the structural barriers to equitable cancer outcomes
  • Improve access to quality care by creating lasting collaborations with community partners
  • Advance legislation and government policies that support cancer control
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of community outreach programs and implement improvements as needed

Within each of these categories, the meeting’s participants developed specific recommendations for the NCI as well as individual Comprehensive Cancer Centers. Examples include:

  • Support research into the drivers of cancer disparities and encourage investment in community-scale outreach efforts
  • Increase funding for community outreach efforts in NCI “core” grants to cancer centers
  • Shift from a narrow focus on clinical trial recruitment to a longer-term focus on addressing the challenges that interfere with trial participation
  • Establish long-term partnerships with trusted community organizations to build understanding of local communities and connect patients with resources.
  • Educate policymakers on gaps in care that result from lack of coverage or enrollment in health plans that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act benefit requirements
  • Include community members in the development of community outreach studies to ensure accurate representation and analysis

One of the major concerns voiced at the 2019 meeting was that while comprehensive cancer center investigators “do excellent research into the social determinations of health, the traditional scope of research grants hasn’t supported the kind of long-term engagement in the community that makes a lasting difference,” Lathan remarked. “We need to find ways to better align our research with the community’s needs – to build relationships that have durable results for people in the community.”

The recommendations set forth in the new paper will provide an agenda for those efforts going forward, he continued. “Health equity research needs to be more than descriptive – more than identifying problems – but has to involve the people who will benefit from it and engage them in building programs that work.”

The co-authors of the two papers are: Patricia Doykos, PhD, of Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation; Moon S. Chen, Jr., MPH, PhD, of the University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center; Karriem Watson, DHSc, MS, MPH, and Vida Henderson, PhD, PharmD, MPH, MFA, of University of Illinois Cancer Center; Monica L. Baskin, PhD, of O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama; Sarah Downer of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School; and Lauren A. Smith, MD, MPH, Neeraja Bhavaraju, MBA, and Samantha Dina, MBA, of FSG, Boston.

Harvard Legal Experts Identify Pathways to Mainstream Produce Prescription Programs

A new policy strategy report from Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation aims to scale up the provision of nutrition benefits in health care and food systems.


Diet is a key driver of both poor health outcomes and health care costs, however nutritious foods can be out of reach, especially for those struggling financially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI) released a report highlighting opportunities to improve access to nutritious foods through federal, state, and institutional policies. The report focuses on the use of Produce Prescription (Produce Rx) Programs: interventions that enable health care providers to distribute benefits to patients to purchase fruits and vegetables at little or no cost.

Diet-affected chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers, cost the United States over a trillion dollars in direct medical expenses each year. Yet, eating more fruits and vegetables can considerably lower the risk of such diseases. Produce Rx programs promote access to healthy foods while reducing the financial burden of maintaining a healthy diet. CHLPI’s new report, Mainstreaming Produce Prescriptions: A Policy Strategy Report, recommends feasible and cost-effective pathways to increase access to produce prescriptions using existing health care and food system programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

“Growing evidence demonstrates the ability of Produce Rx programs to drastically improve the health and well-being of patients struggling with diet-related diseases,” said Robert Greenwald, a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and faculty director of CHLPI. “Despite the promise of Produce Rx, access to these interventions remains extremely limited. Our policy strategy report highlights a variety of opportunities to leverage existing government-funded programs in order to make Produce Rx programs—innovative, evidence-based interventions—widely available to those who need them most.”

The new report outlines 20 recommendations to overcome key barriers to mainstreaming Produce Rx programs, addressing issues such as funding, research, patient data and privacy, infrastructure, and the need for programmatic guidance to advance the field. Among the recommendations are calls to broaden coverage of Produce Rx in Medicare and Medicaid, expand support for the GusNIP Produce Prescription Pilot, and enhance programs that support the viability of healthy food retailers, especially in low-income or historically marginalized communities.

“Our analysis of opportunities and gaps yielded clear results: there is more we can do to better connect patients with the foods they need to thrive,” said Emily Broad Leib, a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School, deputy director of CHLPI, and faculty director of CHLPI’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “Our report offers a roadmap for health care providers, payors, agency officials, local organizations, researchers, food retailers, and other stakeholders to take the steps necessary to scale up access to Produce Rx programs.”

Our current food system puts healthy food out of reach for tens of millions of families, increasing the risk of chronic diseases that cut years off of their lives and straining our health care system,” said Devon Klatell, Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Initiative. “We funded this report to better understand how we can create a healthier future by ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, healthy food and reducing the burden on our health care system.” 

Mainstreaming Produce Prescriptions: A Policy Strategy Report is available on CHLPI’s website, along with an Executive Summary and an analysis released last October titled, Produce Prescriptions: A U.S. Policy Scan.