Health emergency demands attention of Congress
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Posted by: Aaron Stauffacher, assoc. dir. of govt. affairs
On so many different levels, COVID-19 has disrupted our lives. Concern for our families and workers is high, milk prices have plummeted, and the economy is crawling.
Our Edge team is focused on supporting you. We have been working to provide you with up-to-date resources, to clarify government actions and to communicate with the Trump administration and Congress on your behalf.
We appreciate the work of federal agencies to keep our dairy and food supply chains running. The administration deemed food production and distribution a critical national infrastructure, putting a priority on our farmers, processors, distributors and others. The agencies have been very active. The USDA acted quickly so that schools could continue lunch programs, packing plants could stay open and workers could make it into the United States to harvest crops despite the closure of foreign consulates. The FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention are doing their part to make sure the American public understands that their food is safe. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provided flexibility to ensure that our products make it to the processor and then to market by expanding truck drivers’ hours of service and issuing a waiver from certain regulations pertaining to CDLs.
In Congress, three coronavirus response packages were negotiated, debated and passed in a just over three weeks.
The first emergency spending package devoted $8.3 billion mainly to the agencies responsible for preventing the illness and caring for those who get sick.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was approved next, with the bulk of funding focused on providing a safety net to people hurt by the disease and the depressed economy. The act guaranteed free testing, expanded unemployment insurance and increased Medicaid funding. More than $1 billion was allocated for food security and assistance programs within USDA. The law allows flexibility to waive certain nutritional requirements within those programs for things such as school lunches.
The package also included two weeks of paid sick or family leave subject to certain limitations. Businesses will be eligible for a tax credit. At the time of this writing, there were still many questions about how these provisions apply to our dairy farms. The answer for many would be “it depends.” (We will keep you updated.)
The third spending bill will provide $2 trillion to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy. The law’s major headlines are direct financial assistance to many Americans, a $367 billion loan program for small businesses and a $500 billion lending fund for American businesses.
The USDA and FDA will receive $48.9 billion, including $14 billion for the Commodity Credit Corporation that could be used in direct commodity aid programs such as the market facilitation program, and $9.5 billion for assistance for livestock producers as well as specialty crops and producers operating in localized markets. It was unclear how that money would be specifically distributed.
The remaining USDA funds are allocated to ensure our food supply chain remains strong. It safeguards the processes and inspections crucial to food safety, helps cover SNAP obligations and boosts child nutrition programs.
As these spending packages were being considered, the Edge policy team was communicating closely with congressional offices. We shared ideas and answered lawmakers’ questions about support for our dairy farmers and processors. We will remain closely involved as the agencies allocate the resources.
Edge is also keeping our eyes on legislative priorities unrelated to the health crisis. We are advocating on your behalf with lawmakers and their staffs so that dairy farmers’ interests are well positioned when Congress picks up after COVID-19.