The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers several programs that distribute commodity foods, which are foods that the federal government has the legal authority to purchase and distribute in order to support farm prices. The first commodity distribution program began during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when it was known as the Needy Family Program. This was the main form of food assistance for low-income people in the United States until the Food Stamp Program was expanded in the early 1970s. The Needy Family Program distributed surplus agricultural commodities such as cheese, butter, and other items directly to low-income people. Today, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administers the nation's commodity food distribution programs. The programs continue to improve the nutrition status of low-income people, while providing a means for using surplus agricultural commodities from U.S. farm programs.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) works to improve the health of low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, other new mothers up to one year postpartum, infants, children up to age six, and low-income elderly persons sixty years of age and older by supplementing their diets with commodity foods. Eligible people cannot participate in USDA's Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and CSFP at the same time.
The USDA purchases food and makes it available to state agencies and Indian tribal organizations, along with funds for administrative costs. The commodity foods provided to participants do not provide a complete diet, but are designed to supplement the nutritional needs of participants and may include canned fruit juice, canned fruits and vegetables, farina, oats, ready-to-eat cereal, nonfat dry milk, evaporated milk, egg mix, dry beans, peanut butter, canned meat, poultry or tuna, dehydrated potatoes, pasta, rice, cheese, butter, honey, and infant cereal and formula. Distribution sites make packages available on a monthly basis.
As of 2003, the program operates in thirty-two states and the District of Columbia. An average of more than 410,000 people participated in the program each month in 2002, including more than 337,000 elderly people and more than 73,000 women, infants, and children.
Marie Boyle Struble, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York,