Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program

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The Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a program that evolved out of surplus commodity donation efforts begun by the USDA in late 1981 to dispose of surplus foods (especially cheese) held by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). This program was explicitly authorized by the Congress in 1983 when funding was provided to assist states with the costs involved in storing and distributing the commodities. The program originally was entitled the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program when authorized under the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983 (P.L. 98-8). The program is now known as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).


The USDA buys the food, including processing and packaging, and ships it to the states. The amount received by each state depends on its low-income and unemployed population. State agencies work out details of administration and distribution. They select local organizations that either directly distribute to households or serve meals, or distribute to other local organizations that perform these functions.

USDA Foods Distribution[edit]

Under TEFAP, USDA foods are made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to states. States provide the food to local agencies that they have selected, usually food banks, which in turn, distribute the food to soup kitchens and food pantries that directly serve the public.

Households that meet state eligibility criteria[edit]

Each state sets criteria for determining what households are eligible to receive food for home consumption. Income standards may, at the state’s discretion, be met through participation in other existing federal, state, or local food, health, or welfare programs for which eligibility is based on income.

Income criteria[edit]

States can adjust the income criteria in order to ensure that assistance is provided only to those households most in need. However, recipients of prepared meals are considered to be needy and are not subject to a means test.

More program facts about TEFAP[edit]

TEFAP is administered at the federal level by the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. State agencies receive the food and supervise overall distribution.[1]