Meng Leads Call for USDA to Protect Kosher and Halal Foods

Sep 3, 2020
Press Release
Congresswoman, joined by other NY Reps, send letter to USDA Secretary
QUEENS, NY – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) announced today she led 10 members of the New York Congressional Delegation in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to ensure that policy changes to USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) do not increase food insecurity, especially to those who observe kosher and halal dietary practices.
 
Specifically, the letter expresses the following concerns with the revised USDA contracting process that:
 
  • Require contract holders to be re-approved while pushing back application and decision timelines. This decision will delay access for those who rely on contractors that provide foods which are acceptable to the kosher and halal communities;
  • Create new box requirements emphasizing mixed boxes of meat, dairy, and produce which would limit the options available to families who observe kosher and halal practices; and
  • Indicate that there may not be sufficient funding to maintain existing contracts. 
 
“Food insecurity affects millions of Americans and programs like USDA’s CFAP provide critical nutrition to these families and especially to those who have kosher or halal diets,” said Congresswoman Meng. “Changes to this program that require vendors to reapply and to prioritize mixed food boxes that provide an assortment of meat, dairy, and produce will have harmful consequences on those whose religion requires strict dietary practices. No one should be forced to choose between their food and faith. These measures will limit an already limited supply of kosher and halal goods for families struggling to put food on the table. I urge the Secretary to re-evaluate the changes to CFAP to ensure no harm is done to those facing food insecurity.”

"Amidst the most challenging period in our lifetimes, thousands of kosher New Yorkers have benefited from the fresh produce CFAP helps provide to food banks. It is an incredible program meeting the tremendous need in our cities and it is integral to kosher communities getting access to the food they need right now," said David Greenfield, CEO of Met Council, the nation's largest kosher food pantry network. "Rep. Grace Meng and the other New York representatives are standing up for food insecure New Yorkers and kosher families by rightfully demanding CFAP continue unobstructed. USDA must ensure the supply chain remains intact and honors their commitment to provide fresh food to kosher families." 
 
“COVID-19 brought immeasurable suffering to millions of families, especially to those who were already food insecure in New York City. USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was a major relief for families who need fresh produce that also offers halal or vegetarian options,” said Sudha Acharya, Executive Director of South Asian Council for Social Services of New York. “I commend Congresswoman Meng and other New York Delegation Members for their leadership on this issue to ensure all families have access to halal and vegetarian food options during these unprecedented times. USDA must heed their voices and ensure CFAP continues to work for all families, including those who need halal or vegetarian options.”
 
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created CFAP, a $19 billion program to help agricultural producerswho have faced a five percent or greater decline in commodity pricesaccess financial relief during COVID-19. The program also supports funding for USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which allows USDA to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers to package into boxes that are distributed by non-profits, faith-based and community organizations and other nonprofits to Americans facing food insecurity.
 
The text of the letter to Secretary Perdue is below and a copy of the correspondence can be viewed here.
 
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Secretary Sonny Perdue
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
 
Dear Secretary Perdue,
 
We write to express concern over new requirements and timelines for vendors in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). These new policies risk leaving hundreds of thousands of people each week without access to the products which have served to help buoy the emergency food system in these challenging times. 
 
Over the past few months, CFAP has been successful in providing assistance to farmers and ranchers to maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, while also ensuring that those who are suffering from food insecurity have access to fresh food. Further, these partnerships have allowed those with specific dietary requirements (including those who observe kosher and halal) to have increased access since traditional food pantries cannot always accommodate their needs. 
 
We are concerned, however, that USDA has changed the contracting process to: 
 
  • Require contract holders to be re-authorized while pushing back application and decision timelines, which will delay access for those who rely on contractors who provide foods that are acceptable to the kosher and halal communities;
  • Create new box requirements emphasizing mixed boxes of meat, dairy, and produce; and
  • Indicate that there may not be sufficient funding to maintain existing contracts. 
 
We strongly urge USDA to act quickly to assess the applications for current contract holders on a rolling basis so that there are no administrative delays that keep those who are hungry from receiving food. 
 
We are also worried that USDA’s new emphasis on mixed boxes containing dairy, meat, and produce may result in there not being appropriate options for communities who require kosher food. 
 
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible to learn how USDA intends to mitigate both of these concerns. 
 
Sincerely,