Food Distribution Programs
History and Background
The USDA Foods program began in the early 1930’s as an outgrowth of federal
agriculture policies designed to shore up farm prices and help American
farmers suffering from the economic upheaval of the Great Depression.
Many individual farmers lost their farms, while the total amount of
farmland increased. The danger of malnutrition among children became a
national concern. Below are links to the legislative history of the
growth of the Food Distribution Program from 1933 to the present:
1933 - The Commodity Credit Corporation
This Act, P.L. 108-358, created the CCC. The CCC was
established primarily to get loans to farmers and help them store
non-perishable USDA Foods until prices rose. However, in order to
prevent waste and spoilage of crops forfeited to the federal
government as payment for these loans, the government was forced to
sell or distribute these crops to domestic USDA Foods programs.
The USDA Foods program began in the early 1930’s as an outgrowth of
federal agriculture policies designed to shore up farm prices and
help American farmers suffering from the economic upheaval of the
Great Depression. Many individual farmers lost their farms, while
the total amount of farmland increased. Farmers planted more acreage
to try and make up for poor prices – thus further depressing prices
by increasing surpluses in a time of falling demand. At the same
time, millions of people in the cities lost their jobs and were
without means of support for themselves and their families. The
danger of malnutrition among children became a national concern.
The paradox of food being plowed under and livestock being destroyed
while people went hungry caused the Federal government to act. The
Commodity Credit Corporation was established in 1933, primarily to
get loans to farmers and help them store non-perishable USDA Foods
until prices rose. Farmers were eventually allowed to forfeit their
crops to the federal government to repay loans, which in turn forced
the government to hold USDA Foods and sell or distribute them to
domestic and international food programs and to promote export
markets in order to prevent waste and spoilage.
1935 - Section 32 of the
Agriculture Act of 1935.
Section 32 of P.L.
made available funds to the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase
surplus USDA foods from farmers.
provided the basis for donating surplus USDA Foods (and later
funding) to eligible categorizes of recipients through federal
domestic USDA Foods programs.
To bring stability into the marketplace, Congress passed P.L. 74-320
on August 24, 1935.
of this act made available to the Secretary of Agriculture an amount
of money equal to 30 percent of the import duties collected from
customs receipts. The sums were to be maintained in a separate fund
to be used by the Secretary to encourage the domestic consumption of
certain agricultural USDA Foods (usually those in surplus supply) by
diverting them from the normal channels of trade and commerce. The
object of this legislation was to remove price-depressing surplus
foods from the market through government purchase and dispose of
them through exports and domestic donations to consumers in such a
way as not to interfere with normal sales.
To utilize the foods purchased with Section 32 funds, eligible
categories of recipients were established. This law provided the
basis for donating surplus USDA Foods (and later funding) for
federal domestic food programs. USDA originally defined eligible
outlets for these USDA Foods, which included schools (for lunch
programs), nonprofit summer camps for children, charitable
institutions, and needy families.
Essentially, it was the donations of these surplus foods that
initiated the school lunch and other child feeding programs. During
the Depression, USDA Foods donations were the primary source of
support for school lunch programs. During World War II, food
shortages and transport problems limited USDA Foods shipments to
schools and Congress authorized the use of Section 32 funds to
provide financial assistance to schools and child care centers to
provide food for lunch programs. In 1943, State agencies took over
full administrative and financial responsibilities of the donated
food program at the State level (became “distributing agencies”).
1946 - The National School Lunch Act of 1946.
There was a growing support for a lunch program after World War II.
This led to the enactment of the
National School Lunch Act
in 1946, which provides for both USDA Foods and cash support.
Section 6 of this Act provided funds for the purchase of food to be
distributed among the schools participating in the lunch program.
It had as its stated purpose not only to provide a market for
agricultural production, but also to improve the health and
well-being of the nation’s youth. This was the beginning of a
change in concept of the
Food Distribution Program’s
major purpose. On June 4, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed
the National School Lunch Act, which permanently authorized the
National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The legislation was passed in
response to concerns that "many American men had been rejected for
World War II military service because of diet-related health
problems." Its purpose was to provide a market for agricultural
production and to improve the health and well-being of the nation’s
1949 - The
Agricultural Act of 1949.
Section 416 of the Act, as amended through P.L. 108-498, made
certain donated USDA Foods acquired through price-support operations
by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) available for distribution
to school lunch programs, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and local
public welfare organizations serving needy people.
The Act further authorized the CCC to pay for added processing,
packaging, and handling costs for foods acquired under price support
so that recipient outlets could more fully use them.
Additional authority for USDA Foods donations was made available to
the Department with enactment of the Agricultural Act of 1949, and
subsequent amendments through P.L. 1098-498. Section 416 of the Act
made certain USDA Foods acquired through price-support operations by
the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) available for distribution to
CCC USDA Foods were made available to: (1) school lunch programs;
(2) the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Federal, State, and local
public welfare organizations for the assistance of needy Indians and
other needy persons; (3) private welfare organizations for the
assistance of needy persons within the United States; and needy
persons outside the United States.
These donations were in addition to those made available through the
provisions of Section 32 of the Agricultural Act of 1935.
The Act also authorized the CCC to pay for added processing,
packaging and handling costs for foods acquired under price support
so that recipient outlets could more fully use them. This allowed
for purchasing flour milled from support priced wheat, cornmeal from
corn, oils from oil seeds, etc. The theory was that every pound of
food purchased in its processed state reduced the amount that would
go into CCC stocks. Again, the objective was to increase consumption
of these foods that were being acquired by the CCC under price
During the period from 1935 to 1970, over half of the foods that
USDA distributed domestically went to needy families. However, as
the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program expanded, school and
child feeding programs used an ever-increasing share of the total
1961 - Executive Order Increasing Food Donations to Needy
In January 1961, the first executive order issued by President
Kennedy mandated that the Department increase the quantity and
variety of foods donated for needy households. This executive order
represented a shift in the USDA Foods Distribution Programs’ primary
purpose – from surplus disposal to that of providing nutritious
foods to needy households. Also in 1961, USDA set the goal of
providing (within the constraints of the current marketing
conditions) a minimum level of USDA Foods assistance to schools.
late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Nixon Administration proposed
phasing out USDA Foods donation programs as part of a broader farm
policy effort to end price support programs that required government
acquisitions of USDA Foods. This effort was unsuccessful, and in
fact may have helped institutionalize USDA Foods donations to
domestic food programs. The Congress voted to continue farm price
supports that generated government stocks, and mandated USDA Foods
assistance for school lunch programs.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, several laws were enacted to create
programs with a USDA Foods component which were designed to meet
the food needs of specific segments of the population. These
included the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service
Program, the Child Care Food Program, and the Nutrition Program
for the Elderly.
In the Summer Food Service Program, USDA Foods are available to
sites that serve needy children during summer vacation from
school. Under the Child Care Food Program (which has now been
expanded to include certain adults), USDA Foods are available to
approved day care centers that serve meals and snacks to
children and adults, and family and group day care homes for
children. The Nutrition Program for the Elderly (now known as
the Nutrition Services Incentive Program) provides nutritious
meals for older adults, either in congregate meal settings or
through home delivery.
Another program that was created is the Commodity Supplemental
Food Program. This program provides food to supplement the diets
of low income pregnant and breastfeeding women, other new
mothers up to one year postpartum, infants, children up to age
six, and the elderly. This was the predecessor to the WIC
program, and remains the preferred method for food assistance
for these groups in some parts of the U.S. Also created in these
years was the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
This program provides USDA Foods to low-income Native Americans
and serves as an alternative to the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program in areas of the country where they do not
have easy access to grocery stores. Subsequent legislation has
been directed at making operational improvements to these
The Agriculture and
Consumer Protection Act of 1973.
The Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973, P.L. 93-86,
provided authority in section 4(a) of the Act for USDA to make
open-market purchases of foods similar to those acquired under
Sections 32 and 416 when foods are not available under those
authorities. This authority responded to a temporary decline of
surpluses in the early 1970’s.
Initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s.
Legislation enacted in the
1980’s addressed unemployment and homelessness. In the 1980’s when
the weak farm economy brought huge government-held stocks of USDA
Foods, pressure to increase donations to all outlets increased.
For the first time, emergency feeding organizations were guaranteed
some form of USDA Foods assistance. Prior to that, the USDA
preferred to use more established and larger outlets (such as
schools) for donations because they had formalized systems for
handling USDA Foods, and also because the law mandated commodities
for them. The smaller charitable agencies relied on the Secretary’s
discretion to receive donated USDA Foods, and also had less capacity
than school systems to use large quantities of USDA Foods.
When schools could not utilize all of the excess USDA Foods that
were available, the government began increasing its donations to
soup kitchens and food banks. In order to regularize these donations
and help emergency feeding organizations utilize the USDA Foods, the
congress approved a temporary food assistance act that provided
grants to states to help them with the costs of transporting,
storing, and distributing USDA Foods to the emergency feeding
Legislation enacted in the 1980’s addressed unemployment and
homelessness. For the first time, emergency feeding organizations
were guaranteed some form of USDA Foods assistance. Prior to that,
these smaller charitable agencies such as soup kitchens and food
banks, relied on Secretary’s discretion to receive donated
In 1981, The Emergency Food Assistance
Program (TEFAP) was established. TEFAP began in 1981 to help
supplement the diets of low-income Americans, including elderly
appropriations to purchase USDA Foods for TEFAP began in 1989,
by which time the supply of surplus USDA Foods had been
In 1988, the Soup Kitchen/Food Banks
Program (SK/FB) was created. The SK/FB program was created to
provide USDA Foods to the homeless population.
In 1996, the SK/FB Program merged with
TEFAP. The SK/FB program was merged into TEFAP in 1996, with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known as Welfare Reform.
FD BPR 2000 - Food Distribution Business Process Re-engineering.