Durbin Visits Eastern Illinois Food Bank, Discusses Legislation To Strengthen America's Food Supply Chain

URBANA – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Co-Chair of the bipartisan Senate Hunger Caucus and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, visited the Eastern Illinois Food Bank in Urbana, Illinois, today to learn more about local efforts to help feed those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Last week, Durbin joined his colleagues to introduce legislation to strengthen the food supply chain after the COVID-19 crisis has put an unprecedented strain on farmers, workers, food banks, and families. The Food Supply Protection Act will help strengthen the food supply chain, protect workers, reduce food waste, and support both farmers and families in need.

“For many Illinois families, this is the toughest time they’ve ever faced. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in demand for SNAP benefits, the use of food pantries, and some families are struggling to keep food on the table.  Farmers and workers are also dealing with a disrupted supply chain that threatens businesses and the food security of countless Americans,” Durbin said.  “The Food Supply Protection Act will provide additional funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help food banks with storage, delivery, and equipment, and enhance food distribution and processing during the COVID-19 pandemic to help ensure no one in America goes hungry because of it.”

The shift in demand from restaurants and hospitality sectors to groceries and food donations, plus outbreaks of COVID-19 in food processing plants that have sickened thousands of workers, have disrupted the food supply chain across the country. Farmers have struggled to find markets to sell food to avoid destroying product, while food banks and other human service organizations are experiencing high demand, storage limits, and delivery costs.

In addition to advocating for worker protections and increased nutrition assistance benefits, Durbin helped introduce the Food Supply Protection Act to help fill the gaps in the broken food supply chain, reduce food waste, and help farmers, workers, processors, food banks, and families in need.

The Food Supply Protection Act will:

  • Support food banks and non-profits to help increase their capacity and address growing demand. The bill will provide infrastructure grants that can be used for additional cold storage and refrigeration, transportation, personal protective equipment, rental costs, and additional use of commercial and community infrastructure.
  • Strengthen food partnerships to prevent food waste and feed families. Through grants and reimbursements, the bill will support new partnerships to make purchases of excess food and increase donations to food banks, schools, nonprofits. These partnerships will promote innovative collaborations with chefs and restaurants and focus on the needs and creative solutions in local communities. They will allow for a diverse variety of purchases and include many areas and products left out of the USDA’s current food box program to ensure more people in need and agricultural producers of all sizes and types can access support.
  • Protect workers and retool small and medium-sized food processors. Through grants, loans, and loan guarantees, the bill will support upgrading machinery, temporary cold storage, purchasing personal protective equipment and test kits, and cleaning. This funding will assist farmers and small and medium-sized food processors in protecting their workers and help them cater to new markets so they can continue operations and alleviate bottlenecks in the supply chain.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Robert Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The Food Supply Protection Act is supported by more than 40 food and agricultural organizations, including Feeding America, National Pork Producers Council, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the James Beard Foundation, U.S. Cattlemen's Association, Chef José Andrés, National Farmers Union, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Young Farmer Coalition, the National Milk Producers Association, United Fresh, United Farm Workers Union, and more.