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USDA Secretary visits Feeding Tampa Bay amid rising food prices, calling it 'one of the best'

Feeding Tampa Bay provided more than 85 million meals in Tampa Bay’s 10-county region during the course of the pandemic.

TAMPA, Fla. — As food prices soar and more people than ever in our region need assistance, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Feeding Tampa Bay, Monday.

He was joined by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

The organization provided more than 85 million meals in Tampa Bay’s 10-county region during the course of the pandemic.

That need continues to grow now due to sharp food price increases.

“This is a comprehensive approach here,” Vilsack said. “And it is one of the best facilities I’ve had the pleasure and honor to be in. So, congratulations to the folks here.”

Ralph DiMeo and his family are among those who have felt the squeeze. They now depend on Feed Tampa Bay to make ends meet.

“Very important right now with these times,” DiMeo said. “I couldn’t believe I got to the point where I had to panhandle to get gas money or this or that, food money or anything.”

Feeding Tampa Bay said there are more than a million people in the region who fall into the category of food insecurity.

That’s up between 10 and 20 percent in some areas because of recent inflation and people who can no longer afford grocery store prices.

“A lot of prices are high on food,” Michelle Ermo, a Feeding Tampa Bay client, said. “So, we buy the minimum of what we can afford. And it’s not much.”

On the USDA website, Vilsack’s page states he is, “focused on ensuring Americans have consistent access to safe, healthy, and affordable food.”

That is increasingly challenging, as the United Nations reports a shocking 20.7 percent yearly increase in worldwide food prices over this time last year.

“Obviously, we want to do everything we can to help folks get through this difficult time. We’re going to get to a better place it’s just going to take time for the supply chain to stabilize,” Vilsack said.

The secretary would like to see universal school meal programs extended to ensure all kids get a nutritious meal each day. That, he said, improves education, health and keeps parents working. Vilsack said they’re also looking at using medical prescriptions to allow insurance to cover healthier food purchase when deemed medically appropriate.

To address supply chain issues, the USDA has launched recent initiatives: $215 million in grants to expand meat and poultry processing and $80 million to improve efficiencies for dairy farmers.

Rising food prices is a growing challenge globally, and right here at home.

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