Twice a year, as part of America’s PrepareAthon!, USDA works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as with other Federal, state and local partners to promote emergency preparedness. When disasters strike, it’s not only important for you and your family to be prepared, it’s also critical that your community be prepared. USDA supports local communities by providing access to healthy meals in emergency situations.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) ensures people have access to nutritious food when they find themselves suddenly in need of assistance following a storm, earthquake, flood or other disaster emergency. Oftentimes after a disaster, retail food stores are closed making it impossible for families to get the food they need. Even after stores reopen, disaster survivors often still are recovering financially which makes buying food difficult. FNS programs are there to help in those circumstances.
FNS’ initial response includes providing USDA Foods to disaster relief organizations such as, Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army. USDA Foods include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products which include fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains. FNS works with states to determine the amount and type of food needed and then makes arrangements to get the food to the disaster relief organizations. Once the food is delivered, the states make meals available at shelters and other large-scale feeding sites, or in some cases, deliver food packages to households.
Even after retail food stores are re-opened and operating, if disaster survivors still need nutrition assistance, FNS can authorize states to provide benefits through the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to quickly offer short-term food assistance to families. D-SNAP provides a full month’s benefit to households affected by a disaster who may not normally qualify for or participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also can provide supplemental SNAP benefits to households already participating in the program.
The FNS response efforts can go beyond these two programs as well. FNS’ other nutrition assistance programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Child Nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, have flexibilities to support continuation of benefits to participants in disaster situations.
FNS currently is providing food assistance through D-SNAP for survivors of the recent floods in Louisiana in 30 parishes. In 2015, FNS also provided assistance to people who were affected by wildfires in California, winter storms in the northeast, typhoons in the Federated States of Micronesia and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the floods in South Carolina. In Fiscal Year 2015, FNS responded to 12 different major disasters and provided approximately $9.8 million in food assistance.
Thanks to the readiness and relief efforts marshalled by federal and state agencies, Indian Tribal organizations, non-governmental and faith-based organizations, corporations, and local partners, USDA is able to lift up communities and help them emerge stronger following disasters. USDA is proud to play a crucial role in those efforts.
Remember, if you are in need of food for your family in the midst of a disaster; contact the disaster relief organization in your area to determine which sites are providing children or families with free meals. For more information about disaster nutrition assistance in your community, contact your local Red Cross.