Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 8.3

Monday, August 10th, 2020


August 3, 2020

  • COVID-19 Updates
  • Big Picture Outlook
  • The Week Ahead
  • A Quick Look Back
  • Contact the Team

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– Senate Republicans released the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act as an alternative to the House’s HEROES Act. The HEALS Act has an approximately $1 trillion price tag, compared to the $3 trillion estimated cost of its House counterpart. The HEALS Act appropriates $20 billion for the USDA for agriculture relief caused by the pandemic, presumably to go to producers who weren’t included in the first round of payments from the CARES Act. It also provides support to producers who had to depopulate their herds due to supply chain interruptions, as well as to agriculture processors. Additionally, the HEALS Act provides protections from liability lawsuits related to COVID-19 for health-care providers, schools, and employers, though media reports have indicated that the White House may be willing to cut a deal without the provisions. The Trump administration and congressional leaders are expected to continue with negotiations through this week.

Federal Update- The USDA released the latest statistics on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). As July 27, the department has paid out $6.6 billion in payments and approved 473,124 applications.

The USDA has scheduled a third round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to take place from September 1 to October 31. The first round took place from May 15 to June 30 where the department bought more than $947 million in food. The second round is scheduled from July 1 to August 31 where the department anticipates spending $1.47 billion in food purchases. That leaves approximately $583 million for the third round. The program will continue to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat for distribution through food banks, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations.

Industry Update– In response to the HEALS Act, industry leaders have weighed on where they stand on the legislation. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the Farm Credit Council expressed their support of the HEALS Act, saying it will “provide assistance to farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses.” The National Farmers Union also supported the legislation with the caveat that Congress boost the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Other groups such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the bill is “so bare-bones you cannot even make out the body…sustainable agriculture, beginning farmers, and regional food systems are left out in the cold.” Those in support and those in opposition have all said there could be improvements made to the legislation, with few specifics being directly offered.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), along with other smaller unions, are suing the USDA for putting workers at chicken processing plants at risk for COVID-19 exposure because of the increased line speed regulations. UCFW said that “federal and private research…show that an increase in work pace caused by faster line speeds increases the risk of injury to workers.” The USDA and major food plants have not commented on the suit.

Big Picture Outlook

EU Green Deal Concerns U.S. Trade Talks– In response to the European Union’s implementation of a Green Deal, Agriculture Secretary Perdue warned that the new policy could hurt trade between the U.S. and the EU. The Secretary said the biodiversity standards will jeopardize agricultural output for trade in the United States. Additionally, Secretary Perdue said that having unnecessary food standards “do real damage to the global trade environment.” The EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the United States shouldn’t be concerned with the policy as it is meant to bolster short food supply chains in Europe. Additionally, the Commissioner said the EU is interested in expanding international trade in food with the U.S.

Bipartisan Bill Addresses Mental Health in Agriculture– In an effort to curb rising suicide rates among agriculture producers, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a farmer mental health bill, called the Seeding Rural Resilience Act, to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The act includes implementing stress management courses to USDA agency employees, creating a campaign to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress to reduce stigmas about mental health, and directing the Secretary of Agriculture to work with stakeholders to respond to farm and ranch mental health. The NDAA passed the Senate and now awaits passage by the House.

Biden Releases Plan to Address Equity in Agriculture– Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden released a plan for “advancing racial equity across the American economy” which includes a section on agriculture. If elected, Biden would create an “equity commission” that would focus on eliminating regulatory barriers faced by minority producers. Additionally, he would direct the USDA to ensure minority farmers are being treated equally by federal programs for conservation, risk management, marketing assistance, and climate-friendly farming. The plan would also assist minority farmers in purchasing farmland through technical assistance, expedite credit, and low-interest loans.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, August 5
  • 10:00 a.m. (EST) The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold “An Oversight Hearing to Examine the Federal Trade Commission.”
To see a full list of House and Senate Committee business, visit here.

A Quick Look Back

Contact the Team 

Feel free to contact Mike Torrey, Tara Smith, Cassandra Kuball, Jessica Kuney , Barbara Patterson, or Perry Harlow with any questions or comments.