Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 5.18

Monday, May 18th, 2020


May 18, 2020

Programming note: MTA’s Weekly Food & Agriculture Update will break for
Memorial Day and return to your inbox on Monday, June 1.

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– The House reconvened last week to pass the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, entitled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions or “HEROES” Act. The 1,800-page bill passed 208-199, and includes several food and agriculture-related provisions. The legislation:

  • Authorizes an additional $16.5 billion in ad hoc assistance for specialty crops, livestock and other commodities through the CFAP payment program.
  • Creates a new program called the Emergency Soil, Health and Income Protection Pilot Program.
  • Establishes $500,000,000 for a direct dairy donation program to prevent dumped milk and facilitate rapid donations of displaced dairy products directly to feeding programs.
  • Provides Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) payments to small and mid-sized dairies that have increased in size over the last seven years.
  • Requires USDA to notify Congressional Agriculture Committees 90 days before any CCC obligation or expenditure of the commodities impacted, the financial benefit, the nature of the payment, the entities they expect to receive payments, the intended policy goals, the legal justification and the expected market impact.
  • Increases SNAP program benefits by 15% and provides an additional $10 billion to accommodate expansion of SNAP.

Additionally, the HEROES Act included ethanol and other biofuels assistance, providing 45 cents per gallon of fuel that were produced this year through May 1, 2020. Read MTA’s summary of the HEROES Act ag provisions here.

Now, the bill moves to the hands of the Republican-majority Senate for consideration. Republican lawmakers have indicated that the proposal is dead on arrival, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has commented that the Senate will address additional COVID-19 relief measures, in coordination with the White House.

Additionally, the House voted on a rule change to allow proxy voting and the use of technology for committees to conduct official business meetings. The Rules Committee approved this resolution for the rule change on Thursday, and the full House approved the measure on a party line vote of 217-189. The rule will remain in effect for 45 days before needing to be renewed.

The Senate will reconvene this week, before breaking for a Memorial Day recess. The House, meanwhile, will remain out of session until May 27.

Federal Update– USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) agencies hosted a joint webinar on Thursday for farmers, ranchers, and producers interested in applying for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). In order to apply for assistance payments, producers must complete multiple FSA forms that are currently available on the special website USDA made for farmers during this time. Click here for more information about available resources, or here to watch the webinar. Meanwhile, USDA’s $3 billion Farmers to Families Food Box program launched on Friday.

Additionally, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule, updating hours of service (HOS) rules. The new rulemaintains the safety of America’s roads while updating the existing regulations for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.

Industry Update– The H-2B Workforce Coalition mobilized last week to appeal to President Trump to maintain operation of the H-2B visa program. The coalition letter reminded the Administration that there is already a structure in place for Americans to be considered for job openings before H-2B applicants are considered. Though most agricultural employees fall under the H-2A guest worker program, H-2B visas serve the forestry and landscaping industries. Signers included the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and the National Council of Agricultural Employers. Click here to read the letter.

Big Picture Outlook

Senate Judiciary Committee Examines Liability Issues– The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week to discuss employer liability issues in the face of the coronavirus crisis. Senators and witnesses were split on the idea of creating legislation to expand liability protections for businesses. However, they all were in agreement that either the CDC or OSHA should establish an enforceable set of national safety guidelines for each industry to follow as the economy reopens.

Essential Food Industry Workers Recognized in AG CHAIN Act– Last week, Reps. Thompson (R-PA) and Evans (D-PA) introduced the Assistance & Gratitude for Coronavirus Heroes in Agribusiness Who Are Invaluable to the Nation (AG CHAIN) Act, an extension of the formerly introduced GROCER Act. AG CHAIN recognizes the important work of food supply chain workers and proposes a three-month extension for a federal tax holiday and payroll tax exemption for all essential food and agriculture industry workers. This bill has widespread industry support, including that of the National Grocers Association, Food Marketing Institute, SNAC International, American Beverage Association, and the National Association of Convenience Stores.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, May 20
  • 10:00am EST: The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on “Oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
  • 10:15am EST: The House Committee on Education and Labor’s Workforce Protections Subcommittee will discuss, “Examining the Federal Government’s Actions to Protect Workers from COVID-19.”

MTA in Action 

MTA Welcomes Cassandra Kuball, Perry Harlow to Staff– MTA is excited to announce the addition of two new staff members to our team. Cassandra Kuball will be serving as Vice President, providing guidance and representation to clients on a variety of agriculture and food policy issues. In her former role, Kuball served as the Vice President at the marketing and communications firm, Edelman, where she specialized in commodities, agribusiness, manufacturing and trade issues. Cassandra can be contacted at CKuball@torreydc.com.

Perry Harlow joins the team to serve as Member and Events Manager, and will provide logistics and management assistance for all client related events and day to day activities. Most recently, Perry served as the Coordinator of Grants and Programs at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Foundation. Perry can be reached at PHarlow@torreydc.com.

MTA Thanks Spring Intern, Katie Fisher– Last week, Team Torrey bade farewell to our spring intern, Katie Fisher. Katie joined MTA in her final semester of her Master’s program with the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and assisted staff with a variety of client support, research, and communications projects. Thank you, Katie, for your invaluable contributions to our firm, and congratulations on the completion of your Master’s degree! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Click here to read Katie’s intern reflection.

A Quick Look Back