What do farmers and families need to see in the next COVID-19 aid package?
Let your Senators know today!
Updated July 7, 2020
Two months ago, the US House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, the fourth piece of legislation from Congress intended to address the coronavirus pandemic. Also known as “C4” or the HEROES Act, this huge, omnibus bill includes many provisions, some of them related to agriculture.
In order for any part of the bill to become law, the Senate will have to pass its own version, which will then be reconciled through negotiations in conference committee with the version passed by the House. We have a small window right now to tell our Senators how the Senate C4 can make our food system stronger during this pandemic – and beyond.
Some of these issues are addressed in existing “marker bills” (bills which legislators introduce not for independent passage but in the hopes they will be included in a larger piece of legislation), and we can all encourage our Senators to support the inclusion of these marker bills in C4. There are other important issues that are not yet addressed in marker bills, and will need active advocacy for our Senators to clearly hear what’s important to us. Read more for each issue below and learn how you can help.
ISSUE: Support Farmers in Crisis
Farmers are hard hit by the impacts of the pandemic – whether because of restaurant and institutional markets disappearing, farmers markets closing, food processing plants closing, or the extra costs of pandemic adaptation. Farmers are in crisis and need support for relief and recovery efforts.
Farmers, farmers markets, and other food businesses have shown great ingenuity to adapt to COVID-19 related food distribution disruption but additional funding is needed to help local and regional food systems respond on a wider scale. This could include funds for altered farm materials and infrastructure, online sales adaptation, and PPE. Support is especially needed for beginning and historically underserved farmers and ranchers.
Marker bills RAFI-USA supports:
The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act (S. 3602) would forgive USDA FSA direct loan debt up to $250,000 for farmers with adjusted gross income up to $300,000 (over the past 5 years) and maintain those farmers’ ability to borrow.
While the Paycheck Protection Program has helped many businesses since the pandemic, the program was not set up well for agricultural producers’ unique business structure. This has led to many farmers’ PPP applications being declined. The Paycheck Protection for Producer Act (S. 3918) makes the revision that allows farmers and ranchers filing a Schedule F to use their gross income (up to $100,000) to calculate their PPP loan rather than their net income. This is especially important for farmers and ranchers who were impacted by dramatic weather events and trade wars, which led to them showing a net loss on their Schedule F, disqualifying them from the program.
In addition to these marker bills, the Senate C4 must address the payment structure set up by USDA for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) which left out huge numbers of America’s farmers, including contract livestock and poultry growers. The Senate must provide immediate, sustained financial relief for farmers, like contract livestock & poultry growers, who are ineligible for CFAP payments yet suffering as a result of COVID-19. RAFI-USA also supports the New Markets for State Inspection Meat and Poultry Act (S. 2814) and Inspector Overtime Relief for Small Plants Act (S. 3797) which provide greater flexibility and support for smaller meat processors to fill meat supply gaps.
ISSUE: Protect and support workers
Giant meat companies across the nation have put profits above the safety and wellbeing of people working in meat processing plants. Farmworkers often live in close quarters that put them at risk of infection if there is an outbreak. And while these workers in the field or plants have been designated “essential,” if they lack legal status and become ill or lose work due to COVID-19, they are left without the support provided to the rest of Americans they are helping to feed.
Marker bills RAFI-USA supports:
The Every Worker Protection Act (S. 3677) would require OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard within 7 days to protect essential workers from exposure to COVID-19, followed by a final rule. The bill also protects workers from retaliation for reporting infection control problems, or for using their own PPE if the employer is not providing it.
The Frontline At-Risk Manual (FARM) Laborer’s Protection Act (S. 4042) would require agricultural producers (including meat processing plants) who receive future COVID-19 agricultural aid to provide workers with pandemic premium pay and 10 days of paid sick leave, to limit layoffs and furloughs, and to implement CDC recommendations. The bill provides grants and tax credits to agricultural employers to help them implement those provisions.
The Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act (S. 3609) would improve access to health services and COVID-19 testing, and extend the Coronavirus cash relief payments to those paying taxes with an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).
ISSUE: Food Supply Chain and Hunger Relief
Local and regional food systems and farmers are creative and adaptive and should be included in efforts across the country to address hunger. But some policies get in the way of a level playing field.
Marker bills RAFI-USA supports:
The Farmers Feeding Families Coronavirus Response Act (S. 3655) would ensure money is set aside from federal funding for targeted purchases to buy food from producers who rely on local agricultural food marketing, and send funds directly to states to ensure their ability to respond to hunger rapidly.
The Food Supply Protection Act (S. 3840) would provide infrastructure grants to food banks and non-profits to help them increase their capacity and meet growing demand; provide grants and loans to farmers and small and medium-sized food processors for worker protection and infrastructure upgrades; and provide funding for new partnerships finding creative solutions to supply chain and hunger issues.
The way most of us buy our groceries has changed since the outbreak of COVID-19. Online ordering and contactless pick-up have emerged as some of the safest ways to get groceries. However, for the many Americans who use SNAP benefits to purchase their food, these options aren’t easily available to them. The Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020 (S. 4204) will extend SNAP online nationally while also investing in the necessary infrastructure for all SNAP authorized retailers to accept SNAP online. This means farmers, small grocery stores, and farmers markets – not just Walmart and Amazon – will be able to offer online sales to SNAP customers.