About FD Food Disaster Assistance

Last Published: 12/18/2013

Ensuring that people have access to food is perhaps one of the most immediate concerns following a disaster, such as a storm, earthquake, civil disturbance, or a flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for effectively managing the federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident, coordinating relief efforts, and making assistance available to States, communities, businesses and individuals. Agencies of USDA are part of the federal disaster response and help in many ways, such as providing food in areas where people may find themselves suddenly, and often critically, in need. Through its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), USDA assists in three way

  • Provides foods for shelters and other mass feeding sites.
  • Provides disaster SNAP benefits.
  • Provides foods for distribution directly to households in need in certain limited circumstances.

Foods for shelters and mass feeding sites

Every State and U.S. territory has readily available stocks of foods that are used for USDA-sponsored food programs. The Child Nutrition Commodity Programs (which include the National School Lunch Program), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) are some of the USDA programs for which States maintain stocks of commodity foods. If the President approves a State’s request and issues a disaster declaration, then the State has the authority to release USDA food stocks to disaster relief agencies to feed people at shelters and mass feeding sites. These sites may be approved by the State, and the State can determine how long to provide the assistance. States may use foods in inventory from all FNS programs for mass feeding in a disaster, and FNS will, at the request of the State, replace the USDA foods used. School foods should be used first, since those food items are available in sizes appropriate for feeding large groups.

Disaster SNAP benefits

Another source of nutrition assistance for households in disaster areas is the disaster SNAP. Disaster benefits are a cost-effective and efficient way of providing nutrition assistance to individuals affected by disasters. In order for a disaster SNAP to be established, States must request and receive approval from FNS. For more information about the disaster SNAP, please click here.  

Foods for distribution directly to households in need

In some areas, disaster SNAP benefits may not be feasible because grocery stores are not open, or because utility interruptions prevent individuals from using their electronic benefits. In these areas, household distribution of foods may be a short-term alternative to disaster SNAP benefits. In such instances, the State must request and receive approval from FNS for the distribution of foods directly to households for preparation and consumption at home. It is important to note that a household cannot receive both disaster SNAP benefits and disaster foods at the same time. States must take reasonable steps to prevent households from participating in both programs, and must collect and maintain household information as part of the distribution. States may use USDA foods in inventory for disaster household distribution, and FNS will, at the request of the State, replace the USDA foods used.

Other assistance

Finally, the regular FNS food distribution programs, including TEFAP, FDPIR, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), will, to the extent that conditions permit, continue to provide assistance to those who currently participate in these programs while providing the ability to serve eligible disaster victims who are forced to relocate or evacuate to other areas. If you would like to contact your State about the types of disaster assistance available in your area during an emergency situation, please click here. For answers to general questions about disaster assistance available to States and recipients, please click here. If you have questions about disaster assistance policy and procedures in FNS Food Distribution Programs, please click here.

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