Tester to USDA: ‘Indian Country needs emergency food and nutrition assistance now’ in Wake of Pandemic

$50 million in funds for food security have not been distributed

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Committee Chairman Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) strongly urged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to immediately make use of $50 million in Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) purchasing funds to ensure food security in Indian Country.

The FDPIR provides U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food and nutrition resources to income-eligible households living in Native communities and households. These funds were appropriated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“During the pandemic, many Native families are turning to FDPIR as their main source of food and rely on the additional nutrition resources it can provide,” wrote Tester and Udall. “Along with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, FDPIR is a lifeline for many Native families in need during this crisis. Together, these federal programs fill gaps in supply chains and address the growing food insecurity in their communities.”

The Senators requested Secretary Perdue increase the monthly FDPIR household food package benefit by 40 percent to provide parity with the increase in emergency benefits for SNAP that the USDA has already permitted.

They continued: “We urge you to work with Tribal leaders and organizations to ensure that Indian Tribal Organizations and State Agencies that administer FDPIR can purchase directly from local and regional Tribal producers. While Tribes are experiencing drastic food shortages, Tribal producers are losing markets that are critical to their livelihood…Indian Country needs emergency food and nutrition assistance now.”

These $50 million in funds, which have not yet been distributed, will provide critical support to Tribes and Tribal producers who are continuing to experience food shortages due to supply chain disruptions in the wake of the ongoing pandemic and losing markets that are critical to their livelihoods, respectively.

Senator Tester has led the charge to get pandemic support to Tribes as quickly as possible. Last month, Tester successfully advocated for increased outreach to Tribes and Tribal producers, which resulted in the creation of a new USDA Office of Tribal Relations website with a list of COVID-19 resources for Tribal producers. Additionally, he called on the Trump Administration to engage with Tribal leaders to make sure that the CARES Act resources are directed quickly to where they are most needed, and that the federal government lives up to its trust and treaty responsibilities. Tester also demanded U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar release $80 million Congress appropriated as a part of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act after a nearly two week delay, and has pressed the Administration to work with Native American communities and Tribal leaders in coordinating their response to the outbreak.

Tester and Udall’s full letter can be found HERE.

Visit https://www.tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources/ for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak