Without the USDA’s continued support, the charitable food network will struggle to feed the increasing number of people looking for help as the pandemic rages.

Pennsylvania Agriculcture Secretary Russell C. Redding and Feeding Pennsylvania Executive Director Jane Clements-Smith wrote in an opinion piece in Sunday’s Patriot News that the planned cuts to the federal agency’s budget during this time of growing need will translate into more people being turned away from Pennsylvania’s food banks.

Less food plus more need, Redding and Clements-Smith wrote, is a “devastating outcome can be avoided if the federal government revisits this cut to the amount of necessary and nutritious food we receive.”

To illustrate, this year the USDA purchased more than 158 million pounds of food produced in Pennsylvania. Under the scaled back budget, the agency plans to supply only 79 million pouds.

Nationally, USDA food purchases of U.S. grown food make up around 30 percent of all food distributed by the Feeding America network of food banks and partner pantries and meal programs. This nutritious food helps member food banks provide families and individuals with enough to eat. USDA food is expected to decline by 50 percent next year. At the same time, the Feeding America network is experiencing a sustained 60 percent increase in demand for food, as the pandemic and economic downturn continue with no end in sight.

And the USDA’s purchase of food helps more than families in need. Redding and Clements-Smith points out that it also ensures that “produce, dairy, and other pantry staples donít go to waste and, instead, fuels students for school and help cash-strapped families and seniors keep their plates full.”