The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

Updated : May 19th, 2022

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) helps low-income Americans access the food they need. TEFAP connects with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase nutritious food for individuals and families in need while simultaneously supporting the country’s farmers. TEFAP food is delivered to local agencies to distribute throughout their communities. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), formerly known as the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program, is a federal program that provides free food assistance to low-income families. The program was established in 1983 and is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) at the federal level. The program aims at reducing hunger.

TEFAP helps low-income Americans access the food they need. The program connects with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase nutritious food for individuals and families in need while simultaneously supporting the country’s farmers. TEFAP food gets delivered to local agencies to distribute throughout their communities.

10 Things To Know About TEFAP

  1. What Is TEFAP?
  2. Who Qualifies for TEFAP?
  3. History of TEFAP
  4. What Types of Food Does TEFAP Provide?
  5. How Does TEFAP Work?
  6. Farm to Food Bank Project
  7. How To Qualify for TEFAP
  8. How TEFAP Is Funded
  9. Applying for TEFAP
  10. Additional Food Assistance

Through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchases and makes nutritious and high-quality, USDA food available to state distributing agencies. The amount of food the states receive is based on the number of people with income below the state-defined poverty level and the number of unemployed persons. States will then distribute the food to agencies such as food banks. In turn, these entities will distribute the food to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other local agencies that provide food directly to those in need. 

The USDA foods can be used for household consumption as well as to serve meals in a congregate setting. TEFAP also provides states with funds to support the storage and distribution of USDA foods.

Whether temporary or long-term, every family deserves to have quality, nutritious meals each day. TEFAP allows that to happen by providing healthy ingredients to needy families through state and local agencies. The federal food distribution program works with the USDA to offer food assistance to the people who need it most.

TEFAP bridges the gap between needy families and food insecurity. Emergency food assistance is also available through TEFAP for families who already receive other government help, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, child care assistance, or cash assistance. USDA foods through TEFAP are also for low-income Americans who may not qualify for such assistance but still have trouble filling their pantries.

If you already receive benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, energy assistance, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you may also qualify for TEFAP. This USDA program provides emergency food to food banks, soup kitchens, and state distributing agency partners. Here’s what to know about this helpful program.

1. What Is TEFAP?

The TEFAP program works with state agencies to provide food that stocks soup kitchens, food pantries, and other community agencies that provide food to individuals and families in need. Specifically, the food from the TEFAP program benefits low-income people who may not otherwise have access to healthy, nutritious meals.

Unlike other programs that cater to specific groups of low-income people, such as school children or elderly populations, TEFAP is for anyone who meets the income criteria for their household sizes.

This is a USDA food program that simultaneously benefits the country’s farmers. Local farmers grow crops and animals that the USDA uses to stock the TEFAP program and each community action agency with food.

As such, the USDA is the primary coordinator for the program. The agency reaches out to local farmers for food and the state agencies that disperse the food. These agencies typically include state departments of education and health and human services. Some states also use TEFAP foods to supply adult care food programs.

In addition to food, TEFAP also gives local agencies some financial assistance to support the organizations receiving TEFAP foods and the storage and distribution of TEFAP foods.

2. Who Qualifies For TEFAP?

Nonprofit private and public entities that distribute food for preparing meals to be served at congregate settings or household consumption can receive commodities under TEFAP. 

Households may also be eligible for TEFAP food but only for home consumption. To receive the food, they must meet certain eligibility requirements, as mentioned below.

1. Total income of the household must be below or at 130% of the poverty level for the number of people living in the family

2. The household should qualify for any of the below-listed programs:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Aid to Needy Disabled (AND)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid Eligible Foster Children

Note – The “income” above refers to your gross income before any expenses, deductions, etc. The gross income includes wages, salaries, unemployment compensation, Social Security, pensions, public assistance or welfare payments, etc. 

Recipients participating in a soup kitchen are not subjected to any test as it is assumed that those seeking a meal are needy.

Income Requirements 

Households should also meet income guidelines. The requirements may, however, vary from one state to another. For instance, the income eligibility in Michigan is as below.

Family Size Weekly  Monthly  Annual 
1 $490 $2,126  $25,520
2 $663 $2,873 $34,480
3 $835 $3,620 $43,440
4 $1,007 $4,366 $52,400
5 $1,180 $5,113  $61,360
6 $1,352 $5,860 $70,320
7 $1,524 $6,606 $79,280
8 $1,696 $7,353 $88,240
For each additional member add $172 $746 $8,960

In states like New York, anyone can qualify for TEFAP regardless of immigration status and income. 

3. History of TEFAP

Originally, TEFAP was known as the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. It began as part of the Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983, which allowed the government to give overstocks of food and commodities to local agencies, like food banks and soup kitchens. It also allowed for funds to store and distribute these commodity foods. The program was designed to help eliminate food waste but has grown into a means to reduce hunger in low-income populations.

Since its beginning, TEFAP has undergone a series of changes to make it the program it is today. For instance, in 2018, TEFAP was given more funding and was allowed to create new programs to reduce food waste and accept more foods for the program. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government sent more funding for the program, including money for food, storage, and distribution.

TEFAP currently operates in all 50 states, working with specific state distributing agency partners in each state. The farm bill – a law governing several agricultural regulations –  oversees, amends, and reauthorizes the TEFAP program.

4. What Types of Food Does TEFAP Provide?

The TEFAP program focuses mostly on foods that local farmers provide, such as vegetables, fruit, and dairy products. However, the program has grown to include private-purchase items and donated foods, allowing much more of a variety to make their way into each food bank.

Some of the most common foods to get through TEFAP include canned goods, like sauce, tuna, beans, and soup; boxed foods, like pasta, rice, and crackers; and dairy and animal products, like milk, cheese, and eggs. Jarred sauce, peanut butter, cereal, nuts, and fresh produce are also common TEFAP food finds.

The TEFAP food offerings may vary based on location, season, and availability. Generally, the TEFAP program purchases affordable, widely available, and easy to access foods. These can change from month to month or season by season, especially outside factors affecting the foods’ distribution or storage.

5. How Does TEFAP Work?

TEFAP has somewhat of a chain-like process in which several agencies and people are involved with the coordination and overseeing of food distribution.

TEFAP starts with the USDA. The USDA purchases food from local farmers and producers. It chooses the foods it wants to purchase based on a list of available items and estimated prices. USDA vendors can then submit bids for the purchase of those items for the TEFAP program, and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) makes contracts with those vendors.

Then, the USDA coordinates food distribution with each state distributing agency to get the food where it needs to go, like food pantries.

From there, each place given TEFAP food distributes the food to individuals and families who need it. For instance, a food bank decides which families in its community are eligible for donations and sets up times and meeting places for those families to receive food.

TEFAP also has administrative funds that go toward helping agencies store and distribute foods. For example, these funds might pay rental costs for storage facilities or shipping costs for TEFAP food to make its way to a Feeding America event.

6. Farm to Food Bank Project

The Emergency Food Assistance Program’s primary mission is to get food to Americans who need it most. However, it also works to build relationships between farmers, food producers, and their local communities and reduce food waste.

TEFAP accomplishes both of these tasks through the Farm to Food Bank Project. This program is split into multiple programs that help organizations get the food they need from TEFAP through storage and distribution. The foods that move through this program are donated by farmers, producers, and distributors. The project may also pay for sub-projects for farmers to plant and harvest certain foods for donation.

However, these administrative funds are not available for purchasing foods like the USDA does through TEFAP. Therefore, to receive these foods, individuals and families do not need to meet the same requirements as they would for TEFAP, as Farm to Food Bank Project foods are not considered the same as TEFAP foods.

Here are a few examples of Farm to Food Bank Projects in 2022:

  • Virginia: The program paid Virginia $224,985 to support the state’s current projects for reducing food waste by donating excess agricultural products to food banks.
  • Maine: Maine was allotted $37,828 to help farmers donate fresh blueberries to families in need.
  • Iowa: The state received $67,569 to transport, package, and distribute produce, eggs, and other fresh foods to food banks.

7. How To Qualify for TEFAP

Families who may not qualify for food or cash assistance benefits may still qualify for TEFAP.

This program is for low-income Americans, so household income is the most important factor the TEFAP program uses to determine eligibility. The income guidelines typically vary year by year based on the federal poverty guidelines. TEFAP generally allows households with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level to receive food, but this requirement varies by state.

Check the current federal poverty guidelines for your household size to find out if you’re eligible. Also, check with your state’s department of health and human services to learn its specific requirements.

Food banks and other organizations receiving food from TEFAP can qualify as a public or private nonprofit organization. These organizations must help low-income households access the food they need, typically through the preparation or distribution of food.

8. How TEFAP Is Funded

The Food and Nutrition Act (FNA) establishes how much funding to give the TEFAP program. However, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase food and provide administrative funds for TEFAP.

Each year, the amount allocated to the program may change. The USDA decides how much food each state gets based on the state’s income numbers, including unemployed individuals and households at or below the poverty level.

9. Applying for TEFAP

Each state has state distribution agencies that oversee where TEFAP food goes. To apply for the program, individuals and families should reach out to a state distributing agency to learn more about eligibility and how to apply. You can search for a state distributing agency on the USDA website.

In many cases, people can apply for TEFAP through their local department of job and family services or health department. However, pediatricians, doctors’ offices, schools, churches, and food banks may also have information on applying.

10. Additional Food Assistance

The Emergency Food Assistance Program is just one of many food-related programs that individuals and families can use to access healthy food. People who qualify for TEFAP may also be eligible for the following programs:

  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): WIC is for pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum women, and infants and children up to five years old. The program allows eligible persons to buy formula, cereal, baby food, eggs, and other nutritious foods to supplement a healthy diet.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Also sometimes referred to as food stamps, SNAP pays a monthly food allowance to low-income Americans to help them afford their meals.
  • National School Lunch Program: This program helps public and private schools and childcare centers provide nutritious meals and snacks to children who attend. Low-cost or free lunches may be available to students who qualify based on their household income.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program

TEFAP commodities get nutritious foods into the hands of individuals and families who may not be able to afford them. The USDA oversees the program and provides food and funds to each state distributing agency. Then, the agencies divide the food between food banks, soup kitchens, and other community centers that provide food to needy families.

If you’re interested in applying for TEFAP food donations, you can get program information and eligibility requirements from your local health department, department of job and family services, or another state distributing agency.

For more resources on making healthy meals and adding nutritious foods to your diet, visit the USDA’s Nutrition website.

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  1. I was fired through no fault of my own in the state of NJ. I was hired to help build an apparel startup. Hired for coming from a corporate background, I would make my professional suggestions on how to improve and develop product as that type of information was always welcomed but unfortunately not utilized. During my time, I’ve repeatedly tried to help the company to avoid costly mistakes in the future when it came to producing apparel, yet my boss preferred to always “wing it” change direction and never follow any type of calendared process. Fast forward and to no surprise to me there is an issue with production and I’m informed with vague information and so as a professional, I remind the owners (again) of the proper protocol that I’ve been suggesting and believing that they finally understood this now. But the understanding was an awakening that was too late (as it seems). Therefore a week later, I was fired as a cut in finances, With no severance, I ask for a confirmation on days worked in order to claim for unemployment due to the financial reduction but then am emailed that due to my decision making that the company lost thousands of dollars and that I didn’t perform my job. I continued to apply for my claim and was denied with allegations that in addition to losing thousands of dollars that I now stole candy (of all things) from the company under footage which is false, and that I watched movies on my phone which was also a false claim. The adjudication office has reached out to me to give me 2 days to reply against the ridiculous allegations and I have replied to all her points of accusations. I had also added more information which I regret now because I was a bit emotional because of the low blows that came my way. Nevertheless, the email had been sent and I am now waiting to see the next steps.
    My question is this. In the state of NJ, what are the next steps for determination?
    Will my former employer read my comments which will only add fuel to the fire (which is true on the additional emotional writing) and then create more lies?
    Have employers gotten away with denying claims by creating false claims?
    This is not what I had expected nor planned to rebuttal in an adjudication.
    I only wanted unemployment pay while I continue to look for work.

  2. I went on medical leave in 2016. I had 2 years of approved leave with pay and benefits. Over the past 2 years, I continued on medical. In May of 2018 my employer tried to terminate for refusing to follow the company doctor’s recommendation to return to work with restrictions in a non hazardous area. I was never informed of where to report or when to report for work. I didn’t even know of the attempted termination until I didn’t receive my bi-weekly payment. I filed a greviance to get my job, pay, and benefits back and was awarded a temporary re-instatement until I had a third party doctor exam. During all of this, I reached my 2 year limit on pay and benefits. Once the 3rd party medical exam was done, the doctor sided with me that there were health reasons for not restoring me to my previous position. But he also agreed with my employer’s company doctor offer of returning to work with restrictions in a non hazardous area. My employer informed me at that time they had no jobs available for me. Since I no longer receive pay or benefits I filed for unemployment. The state said that my employer objected to my request for umeployment on the grounds that I’m weeking fulltime for them and now it has been 6 weeks pending adjudication. I receive no pay no benefits and was told I don’t have a job from my employer. How can they hold up my unemployment pay?

    1. Gil,

      Thank you for writing to us. The outcome of the adjudication depends on the paperwork/documents you submit supporting your stance. Please make sure to prepare well and argue confidently in your favor.

  3. I live in the state of Nevada and had filed for unemployment a few months back in June and was denied because of not earning enough funds in that quarter which show that I’m trying to open a claim on a previous claim considered double dipping. I was told that if I worked and made $1,200 then that would be enough to fulfill and be approved for unemployment claim for the new quarter. I did work a new job started the job as a project assistant for a plumbing company to which the hiring manager knew I had never worked in plumbing but had over 20 years in construction. All in all I worked really hard to understand the plumbing industry but I could never satisfy my supervisors expectations and the last week of me working she basically took ball work from me and kept saying she will handle it even though I would ask every hour or less if there is something that I could do, she kept denying me any work because she was frustrated that I couldn’t do the job is good as she did even though she’s been there for 30 years. I was receiving unemployment funds for the past 3 weeks and suddenly I have to wait till November 2nd for an adjudication meeting and my funds have been placed on hold until then. Can my claim be denied because I could not do the job she expected even though she hired me knowing my previous experience? What should I expect now?

    1. Brooke,

      There is a thin line. It can go against your since expectations were not met or it can also be in your favor for unreasonable demands from your supervisor. If you think you have a strong case, make sure to argue well and present all supporting paperwork.

  4. The state of Oregon UI told my spouse every claim that isn’t due to lack of work now goes through adjudication! Is that true or are they just saying that because she ‘resigned en leiu of termination’ in her trial period? She worked for the state, and didn’t want to be unable to find employment in another department.

    1. Ambrose,

      I don’t know if this is true. How can you confirm? By calling the office again and asking for a different representative to speak to.

    2. Yes, this is true, Oregon will adjudicate any “employment separation” that isn’t due to a lack of work. FYI they’ll also treat a resignation in lieu of termination as her being fired because if your wife’s employer told her “quit or you’ll be fired”, she didn’t really have much of a choice and she was going to lose her job either way.

  5. I was terminated while on Workers Comp. The employer didn’t call me, I was notified a month after the fact by the insurance carrier for the employer! And get this,,,When I opened my UI case to start benefit payments, I notated in the questionnaire that I have a lifting restriction imposed by the Doctor but that I can still physically work and I’m currently available to work….and I was denied UI benefits.
    I’m appealing.

    1. Will,

      I think you should be eligible to collect UI benefits under such circumstances. Please make sure to keep supporting documents handy to support your stance during the Appeal.

  6. I’m currently appealing an availability issue in Massachusetts. I was accepted to a local community college never enrolled and because at the time when I applied I stated I was accepted they denied me. I was laid off due to lack of work it was a temporary position on August 3, 2018. My previous employer I was with 2+years, however I did quit that job which I’m sure doesn’t help my claim, however I’ve submitted everything from my most recent employer including wages which redetermined me eligible. Now I’m appealing my availability… I’ve contacted the college to get verification letter stating I’m not enrolled nor have I ever been but due to their protocols they fought me tooth and nail to get this verification. Stating there’s nothing to send if I’ve never been so there. Last week they finally sent a certified seal enrollment letter that shows I am inactive and never enrolled or registered within that institution. I think it was to stop me from constantly contacting them. Will this help remove the availability disqualification? Also are availability cases easier to resolve?

    1. Lily,

      To offer a straightforward answer to your question, if you lost the previous job due to involuntary reasons (no fault of yours), you should be eligible to collect.

      1. So I just got my Late Appeal decision after sending in all necessary information as to why I was filing late pertaining to being offered a temporary job. The decision states DETERMINED.

        Not exactly sure what that implies. I’m assuming the worst though. Since no adjudicator ever called me. Can you please clarify?

        1. Lily,

          I suggest you call the Claims Center to find out the status. It more or less means the “Determination” process is now complete.

      2. UPDATE: I called the claims center to clarify the adjudicator’s decision they stated that it means I found eligible for the Late Appeal regarding my availability. The representative also stated that its very strange to be appealing a one party decision ( thus meaning appealing just myself.) Will I still have to continue with this hearing since my enrollment verification proves with a certified seal inactivity and no enrollment has ever been made? Are availability appeals easier to win since its not a wage or reason for termination I am appealing?

        1. Lily,

          This seems like a complicated situation. I suggest you ring up the adjudicator and consult him/her on further steps.

  7. my adjutication was removed and my case still says that im eligble and active does that mean the ruled in my favor ?

    1. Jeannette,

      That is correct. The authorities might have ruled in your favor and ruled out the need for an adjudication. Please call the office for clarification.

  8. After working at various jobs over the course of 24 years and never being fired,I finally was recently. The reason was arguing with a manager because she was unprofessional and baited me into a argument and I signed the statement she wrote against me before I left and now I wonder will the unemployment official side in my favor over me signing the statement..

    1. Jason,

      If you’re able to prove your position preferably with supporting documents, you should be able to collect UI benefits.

  9. Can you be denied unemployment after being terminated for allegedly making a customers grocery bags too heavy. Customer made a complaint that I packed her bags too heavy. When I had only put 4-6 items in each bag. This occurred while I worked for Meijer.

    1. That sounds like an awful reason to terminate employment. Please consider applying for UI benefits until you find employment. You may want to speak to the Unemployment Office in your state once before applying. Please call them.

  10. I moved to NC for a Job the employer begged for me to work for him. The job is 1 hour away. I got sick one day driving there and went to work and told the girl I was working with that I was sick and may need to go home so I call the the staffing lady and the own and told them I’m sick and I’m going home they said OK. Next day get a text saying I’m off for the next 2 think they could not find anyone to work with me see my tech went on vacation. When my tech came back from vacation they told her she will be working alone she sent me the text I was shocked because now it’s two weeks with out work I’m a fulltime worked get a w2 at the end of the year. I work the own stating what is going on why you not having me work I said I will have to file unemployment no response. Umployment told them I walked off the job when the all said I called them when I was leaving stating I was sick and they sent Umployment the call off work text they sent me its been 6 weeks and no amswer on my unemployment case help if you can

    1. Lace,

      Unemployment Insurance benefits are extended to those who lose their job due to involuntary reasons. If you think this was the case, please consider filing until you find employment. Make sure to keep supporting documents handy in case of a dispute.

  11. I filed for unemployment in florida but then moved to Georgia, after I was unable to obtain a job in Florida. I was hired at amazon in Florida but have already moved to Georgia and receiving unemployment at the time. The unemployment is now adjudicating because it picked up that I was a new hire at Amazon but I Couldn’t work for Amazon seeing how I moved out of Florida before I was hired. It has now been eight weeks of claiming with a hold on my funds what will happen next?

    1. Ernest,

      If you still remain unemployed, you should be able to continue claiming UI benefits. Since you’ve moved to Georgia, you can consider transferring your claim over to the new state.

  12. I worked a 3 yr contract with an employment firm. That contract ended unexpectantly and I filed unemployment. The employer called me with 2 jobs. one of the jobs was at the company that I just left and the company had a 6-month wait and I was unsure if I could return to the company. I expressed this to the employer and they said that they would check to see if I could return to the employer. I was trying to avoid rejection/embarrassment for myself and the employer. I was submitted for 2 jobs.

    The employer filed a protest saying I had refused work. I spoke with the adjudicator. (Who called me a day earlier than our call) It turns out two jobs that of the two jobs they said I had refused. they had submitted me for one and the other was the job aforementioned. the employer never got back in touch with me and I eventually applied for the job.

    The adjudicator told me that I would receive two letters in the mail in 5 -7 business days and told me to keep certifying.

    Any idea where this is landing. The employer did not tell the truth and I sent documented information to our phone call. The adjudicator said that they had cancellations and that was why he was calling a day early.

    Any ramifications for the employer not telling the truth.

    1. It’s the time to make a strong case for yourself. Chase the adjudicator at regular intervals and submit the required documents in your support.

  13. I finally got the courage to do this as I now get Social Security but I doubt things have changed. Years ago when I was working I had a sales job and they did all sorts of sexist crap. They would not pay the spiffs to females. They called you names over the intercom. They would break things on products ordered and picked up by customers. People knew about it but would not come forth. When you saw something illegal going on that you were not supposed to see, you got fired. The employer lied about you to the DES and they even lied to future employers so that you never had respect once you worked at their place. The so called judges as your hearings admonished you for speaking out but there was nothing to be done unless others backed you up and they were afraid for their jobs. This still goes on. For the most part it is women judges doing the bidding of male employers. Some of these women should be asking themselves questions about the lives of others they were complicit in destroying. There never was any recourse for sexual harassment and discrimination and there still is not. Have any of these female judges ever thought to require further proofs from the employers. Has any judge ever compelled the employer to proof of sales or production exceeded by the women who have been fired? That would be the most telling. When other situations arise and the female employee has been with the company for more than five years, have any of these judges had the sense to ask if the person lasted with you that long and their last evaluation was superior enough to merit a raise, why do you all of a sudden doubt the employee? There is no common sense to these horrible women and they are there as judges because of their stupidity. The system is geared to protect only the rights of the employer so don’t be down on yourselves if you find yourself a victim because if the employer loses then you have a case! DES judges are paid to destroy people.

  14. Please contact me I’m going to be homeless loose vehicle they are holding my unemployment and I don’t know why I’ve been doing everything and more I’m a cancer patient and have to get to my therapy today I can’t go cause my trucks out of gas and no money

    1. Jerome,

      Hope you get out of this situation soon. Please let us know how we can help you. This is a private forum and our help can be limited. If you’re referring to Unemployment Insurance, please call the Claims Center for further inquiry.

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