Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a state and federal initiative Wednesday to connect farmers and ranchers with excess produce to food banks around the state.
According to Newsom, food banks have seen a 73 percent increase in demand since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic began, while farmers and ranchers have seen demand for their crops and other food fall by half.
With supply chains of perishable food to shuttered restaurants fractured during the pandemic, that produce and other food could end up being thrown away if action wasn't taken, Newsom said.
The partnership currently includes nearly 130 farmers and ranchers who are providing food commodities to 41 food banks in 58 counties. State officials hope to extend the program through the end of the year, providing roughly 21 million pounds of food to local food banks every month.
"We want to address that mismatch," Newsom said, "to work with the ranchers, to work with the farmers, to connect them to the food banks and do so in a way that jumpstarts our capacity to deliver nutritious food; high quality, locally produced produce, poultry, dairy and the like to those most in need."
The state has already raised $3.6 million in philanthropic funding for the program, with a goal of raising some $15 million more to help feed families in need and pay farm workers, who will also receive a 15 percent tax credit through the program.
Newsom said state Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross has championed a farm-to-food bank pipeline program since he was lieutenant governor.
"It's a remarkable program and I believe because we had it in place, we were able to prevent extensive food waste because of the suddenness of the change of our economy and our buying habits," Ross said.
Newsom also announced that the state received federal waivers to make its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and its Electronic Benefits Transfer program more accessible.
The waiver for the state's SNAP program, known as CalFresh, allows program members to use their benefits to purchase food and other necessities online. The state has partnered initially with Amazon and Walmart, with plans to expand to other food and commodity retailers.
The EBT program waiver will make up to $365 in additional benefits available to families with children who would normally qualify for free breakfast and lunch at school. According to Newsom, roughly 3.8 million children are eligible for that meal assistance.
"We deeply recognize people's food insecurity, not just their economic insecurity, and we don't want to exacerbate that to the extent we can," Newsom said.
Health officials around the state have confirmed a total of 46,500 coronavirus cases, including 1,887 deaths, according to Newsom. In addition, 1,186 people are in intensive care due to the virus and 3,495 are currently hospitalized across the state.