After a telephone conversation with leaders of the nation’s grocery companies about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump on Sunday urged Americans to buy only as much food and other grocery store products as they need and not to hoard them.
Also Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control recommended there should be no gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks, including weddings, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events or conferences. https://www.cdc.gov/…
Meanwhile, the governors of at least five states — California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington — closed bars, restaurants and wineries in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, USA Today said.
At the beginning of a news conference Sunday with his coronavirus task force, Trump praised the Federal Reserve for lowering the interest rate to almost zero and then said the grocers are “going to work 24 hours around the clock keeping their store stocked.”
Then he added that the grocers had asked him to say “‘Could you buy a little bit less, please?’” I think —- I thought I’d never hear that from a retailer.”
Trump continued, “All of them are working hand-in-hand with the federal government, as well as the state and local leaders, to ensure food and essentials are constantly available. And they’ll do it. There’s no shortages. We have no shortages — other than people are buying anywhere from three to five times what they would normally buy. It’s going to be there for a long time.”
After the news conference, FMI The Food Industry Association CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a news release, “We want to ensure that all Americans know the government is working closely with all stakeholders across the food and consumer products supply chain to ensure that stores can stay open and stocked with the products consumers need through this emergency.
“We stand with the president, the vice president and the administration, as we work, serve and feed the nation,” Sarasin said.
“We are resilient; our industry is working 24-hours-a-day to replenish and restock while ensuring the cleanliness of our stores and facilities. We are seeking to be sensitive to the needs of all our customers and partners, including our WIC and SNAP shoppers and the food banks our stores support.”
(WIC stands for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children, and SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that used to be known as food stamps.)
National Grocers Association President and CEO Greg Ferrara noted that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had also been on the call, and added, “NGA applauds President Trump, Vice President [Mike] Pence and administration officials for taking the time to speak to the food industry regarding the impact of the ongoing public health crisis and providing an update on the national response.”
“I appreciated the opportunity to share with President Trump the important work that NGA’s nearly 9,000 members, and their close to 1 million team members, are doing to support and feed their communities during this challenging time. America has the most efficient and effective supply chain in the world and stores continue to be restocked consistently.
“While local, independent grocers are currently experiencing an unprecedented demand in store traffic and for product and goods, we continue to work closely with the president and our federal, state and local officials nationwide to ensure the resilience of both the food supply chain and our local economies.
“Our industry has faced emergencies before from hurricanes to earthquakes, and fires to floods. Grocers are experienced and prepared to continue serving their communities and employees as our members do each and every day. Our nation’s food supply and supply chain are very strong, well stocked and will continue to work at the highest capacity to supply stores.”
The National Grocers Association represents independent grocers.
Group Calls on USDA to Suspend School-Lunch Rules
With schools around the country closing to try to reduce exposure the coronavirus outbreak, the Urban School Food Alliance, representing 12 of the largest school districts in the country, is calling on the Agriculture Department to suspend or broaden nutrition program income eligibility rules to make sure all students have access to food, not just those who are eligible for free or reduced price school meals.
Under current regulations, the Agriculture Department can deploy Summer Food Service models only in areas in which 50% or more of students qualify for meal benefits.
But Katie Wilson, the executive director of the alliance, said, “Students that do not live in these communities still need food. And, students not currently eligible for free meals may quickly become needy due to the loss of family income when residing in enforced containment areas.”
The Alliance said USDA should also:
-Enable local decision-making for food distribution, without being hampered by applying for waivers and other regulatory constraints.
-Allow for multiple meals to be provided/delivered at once.
-Provide federal and state (where applicable) meal reimbursement for all student meals served, regardless of family income.
In an email to DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom, Wilson added that USDA does not have the authority to do everything the Alliance asked, but “They could have asked Congress for waivers earlier and not waited until now. There was no plan in place as this virus spread.”
Wilson also noted, “The House bill just passed Friday night includes language that waives the requirement for agencies to be cost neutral with any changes or flexibilities.”
“If the Senate passes the same language then USDA could suspend the income eligibility requirement and allow schools to feed ALL kids no matter if the community meets the 50% free and reduced threshold or not.
“Thousands of people are going to be out of work due to all the shutdowns — so families are going to be in crisis in a very short period of time,” Wilson said. “ALL kids need to be able to get food and school nutrition programs should have the authority to set up feeding sites everywhere and anywhere and get reimbursed for the meals they serve. They can also begin to send home multiple meals to limit contacts.”
A USDA spokesperson said, “President Trump has made the safety, security and health of the American people his top priority. At USDA, Secretary [Sonny] Perdue is working to ensure children who are affected by school closures continue to get fed. USDA intends to use all available program flexibilities and contingencies to serve our program participants across our 15 nutrition programs. We have already begun to issue waivers to ease program operations and protect the health of participants.”
The coronavirus bill that the House passed early Saturday focused on providing money for low-income people through the school meals program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
The Urban School Food Alliance, representing 3.6 million students in these districts that serve 635 million meals a year.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport
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