Tens of thousands of low-income California seniors stopped receiving home deliveries of free food just as COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state were peaking, thanks to a century-old federal policy to include surplus cheese in government aid packages.
As the coronavirus began to spread in March and Gov. Gavin Newsom called on millions of seniors to self-isolate, these needy Californians initially were able to have a box of dried food delivered to their homes each month at no cost because federal regulators granted a state request to temporarily waive certain rules governing the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
The three-month exemption allowed food banks to remove cheese — the only perishable item in the boxes — and then use private companies or volunteers to deliver the monthly aid to clients’ homes, rather than require vulnerable seniors to pick them up during the pandemic. Several aid groups relied on Amazon.com and others who agreed to deliver the boxes for free.
But in July, the federal waiver ended and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials refused to extend it, meaning cheese must again be included and, more problematically, refrigerated in transit.
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