Food Security & TEFAP

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Economic Insecurity Underlies Food Insecurity

The hunger and food insecurity suffered daily by tens of thousands of Wisconsinites occurs when a household cannot afford or is uncertain of having sufficient, healthy food because of inadequate income. An estimated 10.5% of Wisconsin households were food insecure – before the onset of the pandemic – which has caused a significant increase in families at risk of hunger. Rates are highest among single parent families, households with children, and African American and Hispanic households.

Families will skip meals, reduce the frequency or quality of meals, buy cheap, unhealthy but filling foods in order to get by. It is well documented that parents often skip or reduce their own meals to ensure their children have enough to eat.

Thankfully, federal nutrition programs – like SNAP, school meals, WIC, TEFAP, and other commodity-based programs – as well as the network of local emergency food providers – provide an essential nutritional safety net to help protect families from hunger.

Yet, food insecurity is foremost not a condition, but a symptom – a particularly painful and persistent symptom – of our local, state, and national failure to fundamentally confront and eliminate economic inequality. Food insecurity stands at the crossroads of a host of causal factors – social, corporate, economic, cultural, personal, educational, and governmental – with which it is deeply intertwined.  When households lack sufficient income to meet their basic needs – whether housing, utilities, health care, education, childcare, and transportation – families will first prioritize inflexible bills – like rent, electricity, heat, gas that cannot be negotiated – thus reducing amount of money in the household budget to buy food.  Thus, economic insecurity ‘translates into’ food insecurity.

Therefore the key to preventing hunger & ending food insecurity, involves much more than effective nutrition programs, but includes urgent priorities like increasing the availability of jobs that pay a family supporting wage and offer good benefits, raising the minimum wage, making greater public and private investments in affordable housing, in energy assistance and weatherization, in expanding access to quality affordable health care and childcare, making investments in education and training, in public and private transportation, in business development assistance to entrepreneurs.  In these investments lay the real solutions.

Wisconsin’s network of Community Action Agencies, even as they respond to the urgent needs and circumstances of low-income people today, such as food insecurity, remain deeply committed and focused on finding and implementing these structural solutions to reduce and eliminate poverty in the long-term.


The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) – is a federal nutrition program that provides USDA commodities to emergency food providers nationwide to supplement the food packages and meals they provide to food insecure households.

In Wisconsin:

  • The Department of Health Services (DHS) contracts with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to store & deliver TEFAP commodities to a network of emergency food providers in every county in coordination with DPI’s distribution of commodities to public & private schools.
  • WISCAP has provided logistical support to TEFAP for over 20 years, including surveying, food ordering, shipment tracking, data management, and summer food storage & distribution.
  • Twelve Community Action Agencies and five non-CAA partners coordinate the local monthly distribution of USDA commodities to 350 participating food pantries, meal sites, shelters, and local food banks in all 72 counties.
  • In 2020, this network of providers distributed 35 million pounds of TEFAP commodities worth $34 million dollars – the largest volume in its 30-year history – and 300% of the volume distributed in 2018.
  • TEFAP food pantries serve an estimated 170,000 people monthly.
  • TEFAP meal sites & shelters serve an estimated 135,000 meals monthly.
  • Food pantries also distribute over 35 million pounds of private sector food to low-income households.


TEFAP Commodities include:

  • Frozen & canned meats, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish.
  • Frozen & shell eggs.
  • Frozen, canned, and fresh fruits and vegetables (low sodium, low fat).
  • Dairy, including cheese, UHT milk, and fresh milk.
  • Pasta, cereals, rice, peanut butter, and various grains.
  • Cooking oil.