Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 3.23

Monday, March 23rd, 2020


March 23, 2020

A quick look at what’s happening in Washington, D.C. that’s impacting food and agriculture. If you would like to subscribe to the receive the updates right to your inbox, please contact Marissa Dake

Big Picture Outlook

COVID-19 Legislative Update– As the coronavirus outbreak continues across the world, Congressional leadership, the Trump Administration, and government agencies at all levels are coordinating with private sector and nonprofit organizations to mitigate the disease spread and impact on the US economy. Congress continues to work on supplemental appropriations to address the impacts of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the Senate passed House Bill 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, with a vote of 90 to 8. The “phase two ” bill includes free testing and paid leave to certain workers. President Trump signed the bill into law on Wednesday night.

Now, lawmakers are working to pass a $2 trillion stimulus bill, estimated to be the largest in US history. Senators are negotiating the terms of the “phase three” plan, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) said House Democrats will propose their own bill as well. The latest draft of the Senate’s bill included more than $15 billion for SNAP and $9 billion for child nutrition program funding.

On Thursday, The Trump Administration closed the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders for nonessential travel last week, in an effort to further mitigate the disease spread. Later that day, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance instructing food and agriculture, among sixteen other critical infrastructure industries, to maintain normal operations during the crisis. The guidance calls on farm workers involved in animal agriculture, field crops, food and beverage manufacturing and delivery, those supporting groceries and pharmacies, and several others to continue their day to day work.

Labor a Top Issue for Ag– Amidst the chaos of the coronavirus outbreak, farm workers’ H-2A visa applications are stalled due to consulates closing. In 2019, more than 250,000 farm laborers had an H-2A visa, and those workers need reapproval from consulates this crop year. March and April are historically the heaviest months for visa applications. This time last year, DHS approved 28% of 2019’s applications. Farmers from across the agricultural supply chain have sounded the alarm, as this spring’s crops are at risk without adequate labor.

A group of ag industry stakeholders, led by the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing “deep concern” with the Department of State’s decision to suspend regular visa processing at the US Embassy in Mexico City and all US consulates in Mexico. USDA reassured the industry that they are working with the State Department to ensure minimal disruption in the H-2A visa applications. The in-person interview that is typically required during the application process can be waived for any returning foreign workers, in an effort to help the workload for authorities.

Nominations & Confirmations
  • USDA Secretary Perdue swore in Devon Westhill as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights on March 13. Prior to this appointment, Westhill served as the Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison at the US Department of Labor.
  • President Trump nominated Rodney Brown, former president and CEO of the California Bankers Association, to join the Farm Credit Administration Board. This term expires in October 2024.
  • President Trump designated John Barsa to be acting administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Tuesday, March 17. Barsa currently serves as the assistant administrator for USAID Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • USDA named Sarah Campbell as the coordinator for the agency’s beginning farmers and ranchers team last week.
  • USDA Secretary Perdue announced last week that David Wu will serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration.

A Quick Look Back