WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) yesterday introduced the State Emergency Restaurant and Vendor Enhancement (SERVE) and COVID-19 Anti-Hunger Restaurant Relief for You (CARRY) Act, which would provide additional opportunities to help low-income and unemployed Americans access food during the coronavirus pandemic by establishing the SERVE program, the CARRY program, and the State Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (SCFAP).
“Long lines are forming at food banks and grocery stores shelves are going empty, making it all the more important that Congress acts fast to strengthen and invest in the broad federal nutrition safety net,” said Murphy and Cornyn. “The SERVE and CARRY Act is just one piece of the puzzle to help restore stability to the food supply chain, help those struggling with food insecurity, and support restaurants and their workers who are suffering as a result of COVID-19. That’s exactly why we’re pushing for this legislation to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package the Senate takes up.”
Overview of the SERVE and CARRY Act:
As states begin to reopen their economies, the SERVE and CARRY Act addresses the need for additional tools to help local communities complement existing federal resources. Crafted in partnership with the restaurant industry, food banks, and the anti-hunger community, this legislation would provide states with additional options to help low-income and unemployed Americans access food by establishing the SERVE program, CARRY program, and State Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (SCFAP). This bill is separate from existing federal nutrition programs and will be considered as such while conversations on another relief package progress.
States and territories would have a range of options to choose from to help them respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
- Create and administer a SERVE program (separate from existing programs) that authorizes funding to states to contract with restaurants and provide nutrition benefits to low-income participants via Electronic Benefit Transfer following the approval of a plan to USDA during the period of the pandemic;
- Establish a CARRY program that expands population of people eligible for benefits under the Restaurant Meals Program and make it easier for states and restaurants to get involved in the program; and
- Start a SCFAP that would authorize funding for states to purchase commodities directly for donation to food banks.
The Serve Program:
The SERVE Program authorizes state governments affected by COVID-19 to receive direct funding to establish an emergency nutrition assistance program for low-income Americans that complements existing federal nutrition assistance during the emergency. The SERVE program allows states to request funding provided for SERVE by submission to and approval of a plan to USDA. State plans would utilize the existing infrastructure of electronic benefit (EBT), point-of-sale, and contactless payment systems to provide a food benefit for low-income individuals who are eligible for existing federal nutrition programs to be used at restaurants, faith-based organizations, and soup kitchens.
Participating restaurants that contract with the state agree to provide meals at concessional prices in exchange for participating in SERVE. States will terminate the SERVE program shortly after the public health emergency for COVID-19 ends.
The CARRY Program:
The CARRY program expands the population of people eligible for benefits under the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP). Current law restricts the RMP to underserved populations such as the blind, homeless, and elderly. However, in an emergency like COVID-19, more and more people are struggling to access food and need more options about where to spend their money. While states and restaurants must still get approval from USDA to participate in the CARRY program, the bill expedites this approval process during emergencies and does not change anything about the way the RMP operates normally.
The State Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (SCFAP):
The SCFAP allows states to use funds provided to purchase local foods and commodities for donation to food banks as a rapid response mechanism during COVID-19. This provides immediate relief to growers, producers, ranchers, food banks, and ultimately, low-income, hungry Americans. It is the first, targeted response to the pandemic on the ground, allowing the federal government to focus on large-scale, nutrition assistance and hunger prevention. For example, State CFAP allows states to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables for donation to food banks instead of rotting in the fields.
The bill is endorsed by the National Restaurant Association, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Texas Restaurant Association, Feeding Texas, Connecticut Food Bank, Share Our Strength, Food Research & Action Center, California Association of Foodbanks, Foodshare, End Hunger CT, and Chef José Andrés.