September 2020 Policy Snapshot: Recent Legislative Updates in Response to COVID-19

7 Sep 2020 5:17 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

From extended free school meals to increased funding for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to new legislation that would help strengthen local regional food systems, a lot has happened in the past few months. Below is a snapshot of some of the most important Federal policy movement we have seen.

Senate Republicans Set to Vote on "Skinny" Relief Bill

Introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in May the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Acta broad sweeping bill targeting several issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Amid a deadlock in Congress when it comes to reaching a compromise on the relief package, it has been more than 4 months since any action was taken on the bill. This week, however, Senate Republicans are set to vote on and pass a "skinny" version of the bill. Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this month that he's skeptical Congress members will be able to reach across the political aisle for a compromise before November

USDA Extends Free Meals for Kids Through December 31, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will extend policies to ensure more hungry kids have access to free meals during the school campus closures, through December 31st, "or until available funding runs out." The flexibilities allow summer meal program operators to continue serving free meals to all children into the fall months. The agency says this will help to ensure that no matter what the situation is on-the-ground, children will have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Third Round of Farmers to Families Food Box Program Begins

The third round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program began on September 1st and will conclude by October 31st, 2020. Until now, the program has distributed more than 75 million food boxes according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. In this third round of purchases, USDA plans to purchase combination boxes to ensure all recipient organizations have access to fresh produce, dairy products, fluid milk, and meat products. Eligibility in the third round will be open to entities who can meet the government’s requirements and specifications. Proposals will be expected to illustrate how coverage will be provided to areas identified as opportunity zones, detail subcontracting agreements, and address the “last mile” delivery of product into the hands of the food insecure population.

Federal Agencies Outline Plan to Help Farmers of Seasonal and Perishable Fruits and Vegetables

Following public hearings held in August where more than 60 witnesses from Florida and Georgia testified, in addition to over 300 written submissions, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce released a report outlining the Trump Administration’s plan to address the threat posed by increased foreign imports to American producers of seasonal and perishable fruits and vegetables.

The report released the following plan:

  1. USTR will request the International Trade Commission to initiate a Section 201 global safeguard investigation into the extent to which increased imports of blueberries have caused serious injury to domestic blueberry growers.
  2. USTR will pursue senior-level government-to-government discussions with Mexico over the next 90 days to address U.S. industry concerns regarding U.S. imports of Mexican strawberries, bell peppers, and other seasonal and perishable products.
  3. USTR will work with domestic producers to commence an investigation by the International Trade Commission to monitor and investigate imports of strawberries and bell peppers, which could enable an expedited Section 201 global safeguard investigation later this year.
  4. The Department of Commerce will establish an outreach program to connect with Southeastern growers about applicable trade remedy laws and establish a formal channel for stakeholders to provide information related to unfair subsidies for foreign producers and exporters of seasonal and perishable fruits and vegetables, including those in Mexico.
  5. The Department of Agriculture will increase targeted outreach to producers of seasonal and perishable fruits and vegetables, develop a promotion strategy for domestically produced produce, and initiate conversations with relevant federal partners to better understand the extent to which imports of seasonal and perishable products are utilized to enable criminal activity.
  6. USTR, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Agriculture will establish an interagency working group to monitor seasonal and perishable fruit and vegetable products, coordinate as appropriate regarding future investigations and trade actions, and provide technical assistance to Members of Congress in developing legislation on this issue.

Farmers and Ranchers Deliver Letter to the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis

On August 27th, a letter signed by 2,130 farmers and ranchers from across the country was delivered to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, urging Congress to support and invest in farming and rural communities to address the climate crisis. The House Select Committee had previously released an action plan on June 30th that lays out steps for Congress to take to put the country on a path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report centers around 12 key pillars, including investing in clean energy infrastructure, transforming domestic manufacturing of clean energy technology, investing in workers and a fair economy, advancing environmental justice, protecting and restoring U.S. natural resources, and promoting climate-resilient agriculture. As Congress considers comprehensive climate legislation, farmers and ranchers eagerly await to see how policymakers will increase support and build resilience to climate stresses. 

Florida Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Introduces the Safe Considerations of the Health of Our Learning Students Act

On August 27, 2020, House Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL-26) introduced the Safe Considerations of the Health of Our Learning Students Act or “SCHOOLS” Act, new legislation that would provide schools with the health guidance, funding, and resources needed to safely reopen K-12 schools when health conditions allow. The bill calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a study on COVID-19’s impact on children and issue updated guidance on the issues involving public attendance, such as classroom spacing, mask use, transportation, meals and physical recreation. As South Florida schools consider starting in-person classes, Mucarsel-Powell gathered a group of experts to discuss this critical legislation and the implications for students, teachers, and parents. A recording of the press conference introducing the bill can be found here.

Representative Alma Adams Introduces the Local and Regional Farmer and Market Support Act

On August 26, 2020, House Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) introduced the Local and Regional Farmer and Market Support Act (Local Farmer Act) H.R. 8096 to provide meaningful support to farmers, ranchers, and critical local and regional food systems businesses. Although the USDA's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) has distributed billions in aid, the program has left out thousands of producers, including farmers and ranchers who market locally, regionally or direct to consumers and especially Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) producers. CFAP payments are based on national, wholesale prices that do not always reflect the real value of crops sold by farmers directly to the customers. The Local and Regional Farmer and Market Support Act (Local Farmer Act) would address this concern by providing direct payments to local and regional food producers based on their historic revenue, and help their local markets as they both cope with the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Senator Booker Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Food System in Response to COVID-19 Disruptions

In July, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets Act, or the Local FARM Act, legislation that expands food assistance to vulnerable Americans and increases support for the local and regional food systems that have proven most resilient during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Local FARM Act includes five primary components:

1) Creates Specialty Crop Block Grants;
2) Expands the online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
3) Reduces matching requirements;
4) Expands LAMP funding; 
5) Expands farm microloans.

In the upcoming months, Floridians and Americans across the country, will certainly be waiting to see what changes will come in response to the ongoing pandemic.

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