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The Next Covid-19 Aid Package

Written by Alejandra Cleves (Fellow), Caitlin Balagula (Fellow), Ed Yowell (Chair), SFUSA Food and Farm Policy Working Group

The following letter was recently sent by Executive Director Anna Mulé to key U.S. Senators requesting that the next COVID-19 aid package include support for small and mid-scale and BIPOC, diversified, direct-market farmers and community-based and tribal fishers, increased SNAP benefits, and more support for essential farmworkers and food chain workers.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader
Senator John Thune, Majority Whip
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democratic Leader
Senator Richard Durbin, Democratic Whip
Senator Pat Roberts, Chair, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

Dear Senators McConnell, Thune, Schumer, Durbin, Roberts, and Stabenow:

I write on behalf of Slow Food USA, the national, not for profit organization dedicated to a food chain that is good, clean, and, fair for all, with equity, inclusion, and justice at every link. 

The pandemic has severely disrupted the American food chain, from field and fishery to fork, with farmers, ranchers, and fishers losing markets, food destroyed for lack of market access, and millions of economically impacted Americans facing food insecurity.  As you consider Coronavirus relief legislation, I urge you to support food production resilience and food security.

We support —

  • Targeted direct support for producers left out of current aid programs, especially diversified farmers, direct to consumer farmers, farmers of color, and community-based and tribal fishers.
    • Create an alternative payment program for farmers who have been shut out of the current Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).   The program must:
      • Pay farmers for the losses they have experienced due to the disruption of their market channels (e.g. direct markets, restaurants) rather than on which commodities they grow,
      • Prioritize outreach toward and reserve specific direct aid funds for historically underserved farmers and ranchers, including farmers of color, and
      • Support farmers and farmers markets by covering costs to retool their operations in response to the pandemic.
    • Include community-based and tribal fishers in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).
  • Investments to strengthen the safety, capacity and resilience of local and regional food systems – including processors, distributors, markets, and emergency food sites.
    • Include community-based and tribal fishers and small-scale seafood processors in legislation to support local and regional food chains.
    • Support these important bills:
      • Food Supply Protection Act (S.3840) (includes grants to food banks and nonprofits to increase their capacity and address growing demand, as well as grants to support new food partnerships that increase donations to food banks and decrease food waste)
      • The Local Food Assistance and Resilience Act of 2020 (S.4140) (includes a number of local food systems related provisions, such as funding for COVID response grants, waivers of matching fund requirements for certain local food programs, and funding for grants through the Specialty Crop Block Grants Program)
      • Food and Farm Emergency Assistance Act of 2020 (H.R.7656) (provides quick grants for COVID-19 related costs, including PPE, temperature screening, online sales adaptation, etc. for farmers, farmers’ markets, small processors, food hubs, and other food businesses)
      • New Markets for State-Inspected Meat Processors Act of 2020 (H.R. 7162) (allows meat and poultry products inspected by Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) approved state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs to be sold across state lines)
  • Expanded access to food for all – and more opportunities for independent producers to provide food for their communities.
    • Increase SNAP benefits by 15%,
    • For the coming School Year
      • Extend P-EBT,
      • Ensure schools have funds sufficient to provide healthy school meals using local, fresh ingredients to the greatest extent possible, and
      • Extend child nutrition program waivers, and
    • Support the Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020 (S.4202/H.R.7535) (expands online SNAP sales to all states and provides information technology investments to expand online SNAP to more authorized retailers)
  • Prevention of foreclosure and farm loss through automatic loan deferment, forbearance, and debt relief
    • Proactively and creatively use all tools possible to reduce farm loss and defaults, including debt relief, automatic loan deferment and forbearance, equitable relief provisions, and flexible and emergency access to credit.
    • Support these important bills:
      • Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act (S.3797/H.R.6683) (forgives USDA FSA debt up to $250,000 for farmers with adjusted gross income up to $300,000)
      • Payment Protection for Producers Act (S.3916/H.R.7175) (makes improvements to SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program to ensure farmers who do not have any income reported on their Schedule F are still deemed eligible for a PPP loan)
  • Improve food and farm workers protections to support the safety of essential workers
    • Provide for premium and sick pay for essential food chain workers and mandate implementation of CDC pandemic safety recommendations in food processing facilities.
    • Support the Frontline At-Risk Manual (FARM) Laborers Protection Act (S.#TBA), (requires agricultural producers who receive future direct agriculture-specific COVID-19 aid to carry out fair and safe labor practices, such as providing sick pay and implementing CDC recommendations on sanitation and social distancing)
  • Transparent, disaggregated data and strong oversight of aid spending to ensure equity
    • Require the USDA to publish data on the types of farmers and farms applying for and receiving aid payments to enable Congress to conduct meaningful oversight and to ensure that USDA meets its statutory requirement to help direct marketing farmers and that there is no discrimination in program administration.  Require USDA to provide more detailed program data on farm operations that apply for and receive aid, including –
      • Farmer demographics, including age, race, and ethnicity,
      • Beginning farmer or rancher status,
      • Organic certification status,
      • Scale of operation (both total acres and gross sales), and
      • Percentage of sales made directly to consumers or institutions.  

Thank you for your continuing response to this unprecedented crisis.

Anna Mulé
Executive Director