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Ivanka Trump hands out food boxes to DC families

Ivanka Trump hands out food boxes to DC families
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Women set to take key roles in Biden administration New York expands Trump tax fraud investigations to include write-offs: report MORE volunteered at a Washington, D.C., community center Monday to help distribute food boxes to families as part of a Trump administration program launched after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Ivanka Trump was joined by Paula White, a televangelist and adviser to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, at the D.C. Dream Center to hand out food boxes to local families Monday afternoon. Both wore masks while meeting with volunteers at the center and placing food boxes in the cars of D.C. residents for about 45 minutes. They were joined about a dozen volunteers outside the center in Southeast D.C.

The $3 billion Farmers to Families Food Box program, announced in April by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), is designed to connect regional distributors with local food banks, community organizations and other nonprofits to distribute boxes of surplus produce, dairy and meat to families in need across the country.

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One thousand food boxes filled with produce, milk and meat will be distributed to families in D.C. on Monday, a White House official said. Monday’s distribution will be supported by groups like Operation Blessing, Blessings of Hope, City Serve and White’s church, City of Destiny.

“Millions of families across this country are benefitting from the Farmers to Families Food Box program, with nearly 40 million boxes of fresh, locally sourced produce, meat and dairy delivered so far,” Ivanka Trump said in a statement. “I am excited to witness first-hand the good work of faith-based and non-profit organizations in the District to help propel our shared mission of feeding those most in need."

The USDA awarded $1.2 billion in contracts for food boxes distributed from May 15 to June 30. The program was extended last month, with the agency awarding contracts totaling $1.47 billion for July 1 through Aug. 31.

The administration has touted the program as benefiting American families and the agricultural sector. The lockdowns prompted this spring by the coronavirus made it increasingly difficult for some farmers to sell their products, while food banks have seen demand spike.

However, the USDA program endured criticism early on as industry experts raised concerns that some of the contracts were awarded to businesses that didn’t have a sufficient record of relevant experience.

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A group of Senate Democrats last month sought information about the program and the contracts awarded, expressing concerns in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueTrump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects MORE about gaps in the program that impact “its ability to provide food to families in an efficient and equitable way.”

Ivanka Trump has been a key advocate for the program. In May, she visited Coastal Sunbelt Produce, a Maryland distributor that received a federal contract to assemble food boxes, to formally launch the initiative along with Perdue.

The program is funded by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed by Congress in mid-March. The same bill also set up a program to provide vouchers for children who otherwise would have lost access to free or reduced price meals at schools, which were forced to close across the country in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The CARES Act passed in late March also provided $15 billion in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, though the allotments did not go to households receiving the maximum benefits.

Experts say that the coronavirus has significantly worsened food insecurity for U.S. households, particularly those with children. Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, said about one in four households are food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough food or enough resources to purchase food. Bauer said the response from policymakers in Washington has been inadequate.

“I think the evidence is that regardless of what new programs have been in place, they haven’t done enough to support families and children,” Bauer said. 

Lawmakers return to Washington on Monday after a two-week recess and plan to dive into negotiations on the next coronavirus relief package.

Updated at 2:42 p.m.