Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 5.4

Monday, May 4th, 2020


May 4, 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

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– The Senate resumed session today, and their first priority is negotiating a new coronavirus response package. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also plans to resume hearings and judicial and executive branch nominations. On Friday afternoon, the Senate released the official guidance on health safety protocols for Members and staffers in preparation for their return. Meanwhile, the House reversed a decision to return to Capitol Hill and extended their recess indefinitely.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) offered his reaction to the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and announced his intentions to investigate USDA’s response to the pandemic. Chairman Peterson said that until the situation is clearer, he has urged USDA Secretary Perdue to stop the rulemaking process on direct payments to farmers, as he fears some farmers will receive payments they do not need and others will be left out. Additionally, he voiced his support for a funding increase for the Commodity Credit Corporation’s annual borrowing limit to $68 billion. A recent report by American Farm Bureau Federation said the $30 billion CCC budget had not been adjusted for inflation in over 30 years. Chairman Peterson also wants the House Agriculture Committee to move towards establishing a crisis program to put in place for future crises.

Chairman Peterson is not alone in his concerns about the USDA’s plans to aid the agriculture industry, and other lawmakers are continuing to push for more direct payments to farmers. Among them is a group of 27 Senators, who sent a letter to Secretary Perdue, asking USDA to provide relief for local food producers in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The group included top Democrats on the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees.

Federal Update– USDA quickly announced and closed applications for a new food box distribution program, giving producers just one week to apply to participate. The boxes will go towards organizations that are providing emergency food relief, such as food banks and food pantries, among others. Any entity that can procure food, assemble the boxes, and manage distribution of the boxes to end users was eligible to apply. The commodities that will be included in the food boxes are fruits and vegetables, dairy products, precooked meats, and fluid milk. This program is funded by the $3 billion appropriated in the CARES Act for commodity purchases to be made by USDA and redistributed to those in need. USDA will notify applicants whether their bid was selected by May 8.

Additionally, the application period for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) reopened Monday, April 27. The $310 billion funding increase is available on a first-come, first-served basis and is expected to go quickly.

Industry Update– A group of 35 agriculture groups wrote to Senate and House leadership, asking for technical changes to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) spearheaded the letter’s efforts, saying the PPP needs changes to ensure farmers and ranchers can make better use of it. The letter discusses the challenges the agriculture industry had accessing the first round of PPP payments, leading to less than 2% of the total loans reaching the agriculture sector. With the second round of PPP loans, farmers and ranchers hope loans will be more equitably distributed, as well as more accessible. Those who signed the letter include American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Turkey Federation, and Farm Credit Council.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also wrote a letter, asking Vice President Pence and USDA Secretary Perdue to prioritize food and agriculture workers when providing personal protective equipment (PPE). The letter was written in response to President Trump’s Executive Order that mandates meat and poultry processing facilities to maintain operations as critical infrastructure.

Big Picture Outlook

Meat Processing Plants Ordered to Stay Open, Workers Push Back– President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday, requiring meat processing plants to remain open despite the spread of coronavirus among its workers. This order, authorized under the Defense Production Act, declared the plants as critical infrastructure and mandated they continue operations in order to feed people during the global pandemic. Unions and activist groups have since pushed back on the order, claiming workers need assurance of increased safety measures and access to personal protective equipment (PPE). National Farmers Union President Rob Larew spoke out about the move, emphasizing that the safety issues for employees and supply chain disruptions are a result of extreme consolidation. The CDC surveyed over 130,000 workers in more than 100 meat processing plants and found 4,913 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths.

USMCA Implementation Scheduled for July 1-The Trump administration announced that the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement is set to take effect on July 1. Though the agreement was originally expected to enter into force in June, business leaders throughout the three countries sought to delay implementation in order to resolve internal implementation requirements and focus on mitigating economic damages from the coronavirus crisis. USMCA increases market access for dairy, poultry, and eggs, addresses the regulatory framework for agricultural biotechnology (including gene editing), and strengthens sanitary and phytosanitary measures, among other updates. The President signed the agreement in January.

The Week Ahead

The Senate resumed session today and the House remains in recess until further notice.

A Quick Look Back