Gov. Newsom Announces Expansions of Food Bank, Assistance Programs

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In today’s press conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom discussed two programs that aim to provide Californians in need with greater access to healthy food during the shelter-in-place order.

The first addresses seniors without the access or ability to prepare meals for themselves. The program, first announced on April 24, provides a framework to reopen restaurants across the state and provide three prepared and packaged meals a day directly to seniors. Restaurants will be reimbursed with state funds, and it will be up to the individual cities to establish protocols.

In the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s executive director Laurie Thomas said the initiative would be a boon for restaurants but the restaurants have expressed frustration that the governor did not provide more details Wednesday. “It would be helpful to get more information as soon as possible because it’s given a lot of people hope,” she said, describing the program as a potential “lifeline.”

Currently, San Francisco is asking restaurants to sign up as a San Francisco Registered Bidder in order to participate in this program and others.

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The second program Newsom outlined focuses on providing additional funding to the Farm to Family Program, which the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) started in the late 1990s. According to CAFB's director of communications, Lauren Reid, the current program generally provides about 160 million pounds of produce a year to households across the state.

With the coronavirus crisis leaving millions jobless, demand at food banks has significantly gone up. CAFB estimates that it provided 22 million pounds of food to the state in April. Newsom explained in the press conference that there’s an imbalance in the supply chain: the state's ranchers and farmers have seen a 50% reduction in demand, but food banks experienced a 73% spike. “Here we are in the breadbasket of the world, California, and we want to address that mismatch," Newsom said.

“We're seeing an unprecedented need,” said Leslie Bacho, CEO of the San Jose food bank Second Harvest Silicon Valley, which delivered over 4 million pounds of produce in April.

Bacho explained that Second Harvest Silicon Valley distributed 40% more food this month than during the same month last year: about 8,000–10,000 boxes of produce a day. She estimated that Second Harvest serves 100,000 more people than it did before the pandemic, adding that she hopes increased state funding will offset growing operating costs. Currently, the food bank pays a trucking and handling fee (about 8-10 cents per pound), and those costs add up.

Newsom announced that the program currently has 128 farmers and ranchers providing food to 41 food banks in 58 counties in California, which includes the Marin-San Francisco, Alameda and Second Harvest Silicon Valley food banks.  The goal is to provide an additional monthly 20–21 million pounds of produce, poultry, dairy and other goods to these organizations.

Lastly, Newsom announced two adjustments to the state’s CalFresh and EBT food-assistance programs. Thanks to federal waivers, CalFresh will now provide access to commodities online, starting with Walmart and Amazon. Newsom said that this will benefit 2.2 million households and about 4 million people. An additional waiver provides meals to families and children who would otherwise qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch within the school system.