Skip to main content

COVID-19—Oversight of the Emergency Food Assistance Program-Interim Report

The objective of our ongoing inspection is to evaluate FNS’ oversight of TEFAP— this report provides interim results on whether FNS identified risks related to the safe and efficient distribution of USDA-food assistance to States during COVID-19.

Inspection Report: 27801-0001-21(1)
Published: 08/25/2021
View Report PDF
Fast Facts

Background

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program that provides supplemental food assistance to persons in need. TEFAP provides Federally purchased commodities (USDA-foods) to States and territories (States) to distribute to recipient agencies serving low-income households and individuals. TEFAP also provides administrative funds to cover States’ and recipient agencies’ costs associated with the processing, storage, and distribution of USDA-foods and foods provided through private donations.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers TEFAP in collaboration with USDA’s purchasing agencies: Agricultural Marketing Service, Farm Service Agency, and Commodity Credit Corporation. At the Federal level, FNS is responsible for allocating aid to States and for coordinating the ordering, processing, and distribution of USDA-foods. FNS allocates and distributes food and administrative funds according to a formula based on each State’s population of low-income and unemployed persons. State agencies administer TEFAP at the State level. State agencies are responsible for distributing USDA-foods and funds to recipient agencies and general oversight of the program at the local level. 

Section 27 of the Food and Nutrition Act authorizes mandatory funding for TEFAP. In fiscal year (FY) 2020, Congress appropriated more than $397 million to TEFAP: $317.5 million for USDA-foods and $79.63 million for food distribution costs.

In January 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic a public health emergency for the United States. The pandemic resulted in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the global economy, societal stability, and global security. In response to this unprecedented global crisis, Congress and the administration took a series of actions, including providing additional funding for programs serving low-income households. The Families First Coronavirus Response (FFCR) Act, enacted on March 18, 2020, provided $400 million for TEFAP under the Commodity Assistance Program (CAP). Furthermore, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, provided an additional $450 million in supplemental funding to CAP for TEFAP. The CARES Act additionally required that funds be used to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The FFCR and CARES Acts did not change TEFAP’s regulatory requirements; however, these Acts increased FY 2020 funding by $850 million.

Objectives

One of our inspection objectives  was to determine what risks FNS identified related to the safe and efficient distribution of USDA-food assistance provided to States during the pandemic. Specifically:

  • a. Did FNS accept any risk related to the safe distribution of food assistance without implementing an offsetting internal control?
  • b. What controls did FNS establish to manage risks it did not accept?

What OIG Found

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program that provides supplemental food assistance to persons in need. TEFAP provides Federally purchased commodities (USDA-foods) to States and territories (States) to distribute to recipient agencies serving lowincome households and individuals. TEFAP also provides administrative funds to cover States’ and recipient agencies’ costs associated with the processing, storage, and distribution of USDA-foods and foods provided through private donations.

We concluded that the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) did not formally evaluate what impact the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could have on the safe and efficient distribution of food assistance to States. This occurred because FNS had not established a formal enterprise risk management process to continuously identify and assess risks related to TEFAP program operations, including changing conditions that could impact the integrity of the program. Without a formal risk management process for TEFAP, there is no assurance that FNS periodically reviews and documents its response to the impact of changing conditions on the safe and effective distribution of food assistance to States. In fiscal year 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response (FFCR) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Acts increased TEFAP funding by $850 million, with funding totaling more than $1.2 billion, thus increasing the potential risk that food assistance may not go to those in need.

FNS agreed with our finding and recommendations, and we accepted management decision on both recommendations.