Press Releases

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) yesterday urged the Obama Administration to take action to respond to urgent shortages at food banks in California. Food banks in the State’s prime agricultural areas are facing overwhelming demand for assistance, largely due to the prolonged drought and record unemployment.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Feinstein urged the Department to use its existing authority to provide additional resources to the State, nonprofits, food banks, and others in order to meet the extraordinary demand for food assistance.

The situation is particularly acute in Fresno County, as Senator Feinstein noted in her letter. Food banks in the region are suffering from a shortage of as much as 4 million pounds of food per month, as a result of drought-related unemployment, reaching as high as 40 percent in some areas. 

Pasted below is the text of the letter sent by Senator Feinstein to Secretary Vilsack:

June 16, 2009

The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I write to bring your attention to a developing crisis in California, and to strongly urge you to take immediate action to help mitigate the danger posed by drought and food shortages in the State.  Drought-related unemployment has skyrocketed in many of California’s prime agricultural regions.  As a result, food banks throughout the State are experiencing a dramatic and overwhelming increase in demand for food assistance.  Local resources are inadequate to cope with this emergency.  Therefore, I ask that you take whatever measures are available under the authority of the Department of Agriculture to provide urgently needed assistance.

California is experiencing its third straight year of devastating drought, and the State is facing a severe water supply crisis.  This prolonged drought has been particularly damaging in the Central Valley.  Annual crop fields have been fallowed, tree orchards have been plowed under, and those that remain are being given the bare minimum of water.  More than 450,000 acres of farmland in Fresno County are projected to be affected by the lack of water.

This situation has led to thousands of farm workers without employment.  In parts of Fresno County, which produces more agricultural commodities than any other county in the nation, unemployment rates have risen to greater than 40 percent, largely due to a lack of water causing an inability to farm.  According to a collaborative study by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, University of California, and California Department of Water Resources, revenue losses in 2009 are expected to range between $325 and $477 million.  However, the Governor cannot request federal disaster assistance until the loss can be certified later this year.  This leaves these unemployed farm workers and their families without federal relief to assist them in meeting basic needs of food and shelter.

Food banks are filling the gap, but are rapidly running out of supplies.  The situation in Fresno County is particularly acute.  In order to meet the growing demand, local food banks need an additional 4 million pounds of food per month.  Despite the federal funding provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, these shortages have risen to a crisis point.  I request that you use whatever means available to provide additional resources to the State, nonprofits, food banks, and other resources to assist residents in the San Joaquin Valley, and other regions of California that are suffering from drought and high unemployment. 

I strongly believe that prompt action is critical to ensuring that emergency food assistance continues to be available in these difficult economic times.  I thank you for your continued strong leadership and your consideration of this important matter, and I look forward to working with you to find solutions to this and future concerns.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator