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COVID-19

USDA announces food distribution program, but will it help farmers?

Jasmine Garsd May 11, 2020
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A food bank worker distributes goods. A Marketplace-Edison poll found that 44% of Americans over 18 fear being unable to afford food. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
COVID-19

USDA announces food distribution program, but will it help farmers?

Jasmine Garsd May 11, 2020
Heard on:
A food bank worker distributes goods. A Marketplace-Edison poll found that 44% of Americans over 18 fear being unable to afford food. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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William Thiele’s family works on a dairy farm in west Pennsylvania.

With many schools and restaurants closed, the company they sell milk to told them: you gotta slash production by 15% “They told us, ‘You have to get rid of the milk, somehow, some way.’ “

Thiele says that in the 152 years his family has owned the farm, this is the first time it has had to dump milk.

The irony is, it comes at a time when 44 percent of Americans over 18 are afraid they will not be able to afford food. That’s according to a recent poll by Marketplace-Edison.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that starting this week, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will begin distributing $1.2 billion in surplus food to communities across the country. Professor Daniel Sumner of the University of California, Davis, says the program aims to assist those who might not be covered by other programs, like food stamps. “They are homeless or they’re not eligible in other ways. One of the attempts here is to get food to the poorest, most vulnerable people.”

But will it help farmers? Professor Andrew Novakovic of Cornell University says it depends on what they produce. “The only thing USDA will subsidize in these boxes is dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables and canned pork and chicken.”

It’s stuff that can go easily from farm to box to nonprofit to a family in need. Some farmers will be out of luck. If your farm produces beef or eggs, for example, “you’re not represented in that,” Novakovic said.

Thiele got some good news this morning, though. The company he sells milk to was selected to participate in the Farmers to Families program.

And that means he might be able sell it more of his milk.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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