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).

TEFAP was first authorized as the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program in 1981 and continues to be administered federally by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). TEFAP does not have federal entitlement status; funding for the program is determined by an annual Congressional appropriation. Funding for TEFAP foods is reauthorized through the federal Farm Bill every five years.[1]


TEFAP is a federal program in the United States that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans, including elderly people, by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.[2] It provides food and administrative funds to States to supplement the diets of these groups.

Through TEFAP, the USDA purchases a variety of nutritious, high-quality USDA Foods, and makes those foods available to State Distributing Agencies. The amount of food each State receives out of the total amount of food provided is based on the number of unemployed persons and the number of people with incomes below the poverty level in the State. States provide the food to local agencies that they have selected, usually food banks, which in turn distribute the food to local organizations, such as soup kitchens and food pantries that directly serve the public. States also provide the food to other types of local organizations, such as community action agencies, which distribute the foods directly to low-income households.[2]

These local organizations distribute USDA Foods to eligible recipients for household consumption or use them to prepare and serve meals in a congregate setting. Under TEFAP, States also receive administrative funds to support the storage and distribution of USDA Foods. These funds must, in part, be passed down to local agencies. TEFAP is administered at the Federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency of the USDA.[2]

In 2017, the USDA allotted $374,350,009 across the country for TEFAP. The USDA breaks the fund allocation by state and by region.[3]

USDA Foods available through TEFAP reflect USDA’s strides in making the foods consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with reduced levels of fat, sodium, and sugar.[4]

TEFAP contributes to the food safety net in times of disaster. TEFAP foods may be redesignated for disaster relief efforts when necessary. TEFAP has the flexibility to deploy USDA Foods quickly to areas of need since it is a program with an existing emergency feeding network.[4]

All USDA Foods offered through TEFAP are domestically grown.[4]


1) Public or private nonprofit organizations that provide nutrition assistance to low-income Americans, either through the distribution of food for home use or the preparation of meals, may receive food as local agencies. They must also meet the following criteria:[2]

  • Organizations that distribute food for home use must determine household eligibility by applying income standards set by the State.[2]
  • Organizations that provide prepared meals must demonstrate that they serve predominately low-income persons.[2]

2) Households that meet State eligibility criteria may receive food for home use. States set income standards, which may, at the State’sdiscretion, be met through participation in other existing Federal, State, or local food, health, or welfare programs for which eligibility is based on income. States can adjust eligibility criteria to ensure that assistance is provided only to those households most in need.[2]

3) Recipients of prepared meals are considered to be low-income and are not subject to a means test.[2]

Foods available[edit]

The types of foods USDA purchases for TEFAP vary depending on the preferences of States and on agricultural market conditions. Nearly 90 nutritious, high-quality products are available, including canned and fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried eggs, meat, poultry, fish, milk and cheese, pasta products, and cereal.[2]


  1. ^ "Understanding Nutrition: Primer Module on TEFAP" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Emergency Food Assistance Program Fact Sheet" (PDF). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.