WASHINGTON (WTEN) — Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter on Wednesday to Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Kevin Shea. In the letter, Gillibrand asked how the USDA will make sure that federal programs, like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Farmers to Families Food Box program, are accessible for those with “culturally or religiously sensitive diets.”
Throughout the pandemic, Gillibrand has advocated for the inclusion of kosher and halal foods in federal food programs to serve New Yorkers in need. In New York City alone, more than 180,000 Jewish children are living in poor or near-poor households.
“Making sure that everyone has access to healthy food options in this pandemic is a matter of health and equity,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As thousands of New Yorkers do their best to beat back the virus, it’s our job to make sure that families who rely on kosher and halal options aren’t left without healthy meals because of a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Given the urgency of this issue, I look forward to hearing the USDA’s plan to work with Jewish and Muslim communities to ensure equity in the purchase and distribution of food through federal feeding programs in a timely manner.”
Gillibrand, along with other members of the New York congressional delegation, has expressed concern to the USDA leadership regarding the transition between vendors for Round Three of the Coronavirus Food Assistant Program’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which left local food pantries without vendors or guidance to obtain food boxes.
In July, Senators Gillibrand and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Perdue to request information on what the USDA is doing to include kosher and halal foods in their Farmers to Families Food Box program. Gillibrand has also previously urged the USDA to label kosher and halal food for the national school lunch program, a federal meal program that provides low-cost or free lunches to school children.