Reports: Millions of Pandemic Spending Wasted on USDA Programs

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue loads a box into a vehicle as the farmers’ box of food is distributed to families on May 27 at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds. (Photo by Rachel Wagoner)

The federal government can spend more money in 10 minutes than Congress, its watchdog, can spend in 10 years. Yet congressional oversight – however late and limited it often is – remains a vital part of government.

The House selection subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis proved how vital it is in two reports released in October: Tens of millions of pandemic spending was wasted on programs run by the US Department of Agriculture.

The first report, entitled From farmers to families? followed money from the ill-conceived and poorly managed Farmers to Families Food Box program, pushed in 2020 by the White House and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Sold as a way to bring fresh food to American families affected by the pandemic, it has also thrown millions of taxpayer dollars into totally unqualified vendors.

Public health ignored

The second report, entitled A Memorandum, describes an even bigger scandal. Documents submitted to the subcommittee by the five major meat packers in the United States (JBS USA, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and National Beef) show “that at least 59,000 meat workers have been infected with the coronavirus in the pandemic’s first year – almost tripling the 22,700 infections … previously estimated.

In addition, “at least 269 meat packaging workers lost their lives from the coronavirus between March 1, 2020 and February 1, 2021, more than three times more than previously estimated,” noted the independent Food & Environment Reporting Network.

Worse yet, few workers had a choice of life or death. In late April 2020, the Trump administration used the Defense Production Act to order slaughterhouse workers to return to packing plants where thousands of people fell ill and hundreds died.

On September 14, 2020, however, “emails obtained by ProPublica,” an independent non-profit newsroom, “show (ed) that … just a week before the order was issued, the industry trade group of meat, “the Meat Institute,” drafted an executive order that (bore) striking similarities to the one the president signed. “

Big AgBiz has therefore used its political muscle to sideline public health – and public decency – to keep its death lines and profits at maximum speed.

Unqualified entrepreneurs

One of the few things more profitable than wrapping meat during the pandemic, according to small subcommittee investigators, was contracting to distribute the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program.

For example, according to the subcommittee, “The Trump administration awarded contracts worth $ 16.5 million to Yegg, Inc., a self-proclaimed export management, trade and trade finance company. which had recorded its most recent annual sales at $ 250,000… ”

With this kind of institutional blindness, it’s no wonder the USDA subsequently “reimbursed Yegg for over $ 2.85 million worth of cans of milk and dairy products allegedly delivered to … a non-profit organization.” lucrative managed by the wife of the CEO of the company… ”

The USDA also oversaw a “$ 39 million food box contract with CR8AD8, LLC, a company focused on wedding planning and event planning with no significant experience in food distribution … “

To live? Come on, noted one of his owners, how difficult that could be “compared to … his usual job of” stuffing tchotchkes in bags. ” “

In fact, it paid off much better than the tchotchke farce: “CRE8AD8 was ultimately paid $ 31.5 million from this contract,” the subcommittee report explained.

The USDA’s icing on the cake, however, was the awarding of a $ 40 million contract to something called Ben Holtz Consulting, Inc.

When the USDA request asked the company to list references, the requester – presumably Mr. Ben Holtz himself – responded “” I don’t have any, “investigators noted.

The company’s honesty did not pay off; The USDA canceled the contract “before any payment was made”, perhaps, investigators suggest, because its proposal “presented an unusually wide range of delivery capacities: between 5,000 and 200,000 boxes of 16 to 18 pounds of produce per week “.

By releasing the From farmers to families According to an Oct. 13 report, subcommittee chairman James Clyburn, D-SC, noted that the program “was marred by a structure that put industry first over families … cutting corners on jurisdiction, and… public good policy ”.

It’s another truism in Washington: Political drift usually leads to political drift.

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