2017 Priority Issues
The U.S. fruit and vegetable industry is in crisis due to an ever-worsening shortage of labor. There is a critical need to reform our broken immigration system and help build a legal and reliable workforce. While Congress has come close several times to addressing this issue, fear and politics have always intervened. Long-term, we must have a twofold labor solution – a pathway to legal status for our valued undocumented workers already engaged in agriculture, and a new guest-worker program adequate to bring in skilled agriculture workers in our labor-intensive industry.
The reality of our farm labor force is that most are foreign-born and as many as 75 percent are falsely documented. In addition, this population is aging, without replenishment. The number of full-time equivalent field and crop workers in the U.S. fell by at least 146,000, or more than 20 percent, between 2002 and 2014. A report from the Pew Research Center found that 140,000 more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered the country between 2009 and 2014.
While many bills dealing with parts of the problem have been introduced in both the House and Senate, Congress has not taken action on meaningful immigration policy changes in nearly four years. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has indicated he will move legislation to develop a new guestworker program through his committee this September. Despite the rhetoric we often hear, there may actually be movement
United Fresh supports Chairman Goodlatte’s effort to move a bill out of the Judiciary Committee, despite significant misgivings on some portions of his bill. We simply cannot afford to pass an opportunity to get reform legislation moving, and will continue to work with both House and Senate leaders to shape any legislation as it moves through the process.
Tell your members of Congress that our industry is in crisis and needs action now. And, any effective solution must include the following:
1. Transition falsely documented workers to a legal status under appropriate conditions.
2. Create a workable new guest worker program that addresses the needs of labor intensive agriculture without unreasonable limitations on visas.
3. Does not implement mandatory e-verify until after both parts of this immigration solution are fully implemented.
This past July, United Fresh volunteer leaders Mark Girardin, North Bay Produce, and Adam Lytch, L&M Farms, joined us for a Facebook Live discussion one of this critical issue to our industry.
A new Farm Bill is written by Congress every five years to set agricultural policy and investment by the government. This legislation represents government’s largest investment in the produce industry and in the healthful nutrition of America’s children and those in need. Since 2002, Congress has supported significant investments in targeted research, export expansion, programs designed to eliminate pests and diseases, access to fresh fruits and vegetables and block grants to support the fruit and vegetable sector in each state. The produce industry has supported these direct investments in productivity and profitability rather than subsidies. Through these efforts, annual federal government investment to support our industry in now over $600 million per year.
For Farm Bill reauthorization, federal spending constraints will be our major challenge. It is critical that policymakers hear from members of the fresh produce industry about the need to maintain these programs, and in some cases, why they should be expanded.
The current Farm Bill expires in 2018, but the process of considering policy and funding priorities is well under way. Both the Senate and House Agriculture committees have conducted hearings through 2017 to receive stakeholder input. United Fresh has arranged for members to testify before both House and Senate Agriculture committees.
United Fresh helps coordinate the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance to provide an industrywide approach in developing Farm Bill recommendations. In the last two Farm Bills, we’ve provided Congress with a set of comprehensive recommendations from a coalition of more than 140 specialty crop organizations, including fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, wine grape growers, and nursery and landscape organizations. On August 1, the steering committee of the Alliance met to consider over 40 recommendations for the next Farm Bill and is currently finalizing that set of recommendations.
The outlook for the next Farm Bill is mixed, with many of traditional row crops (corn, cotton, dairy, wheat) experiencing significant economic challenges and thus asking Congress for new financial support. Yet, there is very little prospect of increasing overall funds for the Farm Bill.
Thus the fresh produce industry will have to be aggressive in protecting and advancing our priorities.
Tell your members of Congress that the fruit and vegetable industry is a critical part of U.S. agriculture, and deserves serious consideration in Farm Bill policy and funding. We are unified in supporting recommendations of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which represents industry members with common objectives that transcend regions, commodities and other interests. Through the Alliance, we support key programs that help promote trade and nutrition, targeted research programs, programs that mitigate pest and disease challenges, and provide state block grants targeted to support the fruit and vegetable industry. We stand ready to work with Congress to ensure that our common policy objectives are enacted.
In August, we hosted a Facebook Live session from Salinas, CA, to discuss the 2018 Farm Bill. Incoming United Fresh Chairman Cindy Jewell (VP of Marketing, California Giant Berry Farms), United Fresh Government Relations Council Member, Wesley Van Camp (VP & General Counsel, Tanimura & Antle), and United Fresh Senior VP of Public Policy, Robert Gunther were joined by Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) to discuss this top legislative priority for our industry.
United Fresh leads the produce industry in shaping federal nutrition policy to drive increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Policy successes, such as the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable school snack program, fruit and vegetable vouchers in WIC, and Healthier School Meals have provided millions of children and families with increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables. However, there are still big challenges and opportunities ahead.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable school snack program (FFVP) and school meal regulations that double the amount of fruits and vegetables served daily continue to be challenged by some competing industry groups and their Congressional allies. This Congress will have important decisions to make about our nation’s federal nutrition priorities.
Healthy and nutritious food for students is a no-brainer and the produce industry has made important policy and regulatory steps, shaping federal nutrition policy to drive increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. When it comes to the SNAP program, we need to ask Congress whether massive federal tax money should be spent randomly on any foods without regard to health or program cost efficiency, or whether those resources should be invested in healthier foods. We believe the 2018 Farm Bill debate on SNAP can be turning point in how we think about this program. This debate will set the stage for long-term consideration of moving SNAP toward a public health nutrition program to better serve the people who need it most, and better allocated federal resources.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable school snack program provides 4 million low-income elementary students with a fresh fruit or vegetable snack every day at school. For more than a decade, the FFVP has been a model of success — introducing students to a wide variety of great-tasting fresh fruits and vegetables and helping kids develop healthy eating habits for a lifetime. A national evaluation demonstrated that the FFVP significantly increases children’s fruit and vegetable consumption; is very popular with schools, parents and children; and results in students eating more fruits and vegetables at lunch. A recent study has shown that the FFVP reduces childhood obesity in participating children. Congress needs to protect the FFVP to ensure kids are introduced to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The debate over whether the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, should be a nutrition and health program or merely a cash-transfer welfare program, is finally at hand. Many organizations are now calling for policy changes in the 2018 Farm Bill that will modify SNAP to promote healthier eating habits. SNAP is the largest nutrition safety net in the U.S. providing some $70 billion annually to 42 million low-income
Americans, nearly half of them children. SNAP permits recipients to buy any food item regardless of its nutrition profile, and is the only federal nutrition program that has not been aligned with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
With United Fresh support and other key allies, the 2014 Farm Bill included a $100 million Food
Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program to fund pilot projects to incentivize SNAP recipients to purchase more fruits and vegetables. Even though money is tight, incentives have been easier to advance than restrictions or wholesale changes to make SNAP operate more like WIC.
The consequences of rolling back current federal nutrition programs that benefit children could not be starker. Thirty million students are eating healthier school meals every day, and 4 million students in 7,600 low-income schools enjoy trying new produce snacks throughout the school week. Healthy and nutritious food for students is a no-brainer but we must urge Congress to hold onto these gains for kids.
United Fresh believes the 2018 Farm Bill debate on SNAP can be turning point in how we think about this program. While not likely to see radical change this time, the debate will set the stage for long-term consideration of moving SNAP toward a public health nutrition program to better serve the people who need it most, and better allocate federal resources.
Ask your members of Congress to support increased funding for fruit and vegetable incentives in the SNAP program, and ensure that SNAP families can benefit from produce incentives in supermarkets and major retail channels year-round.
United Fresh stopped by DC Bilingual Public Charter School for the third installment of the 2017 Washington Conference Facebook Live series. United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther and incoming United Fresh Senior Director of Nutrition Policy Mollie Van Lieu were joined by Lola Bloom, the school’s director of Food and Wellness, to discuss key nutrition issues, including SNAP, the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program, and dietary guidelines.
Tax laws have a profound impact on business decisions. Tax policy and rates can have both a positive or negative effect on investment and economic growth. The produce industry is incredibly diverse, including family operations, partnerships, publicly traded international companies and more. As Congress begins to debate options for tax reform, leaders must be aware of the diversity of our industry, and ensure any changes have a positive effect on profitability and economic growth.
Both Congress and the Administration have announced their intent to enact pro-growth and pro-competitive, comprehensive business tax reform this year. It has been more than 30 years since President Reagan signed the last comprehensive overhaul of our nation’s tax code. In that time, America’s businesses and families have once again seen growth and opportunity stymied by a cumbersome, overly-complicated set of tax policies. Agricultural stakeholders are advocating for a tax reform package that includes provisions such as repeal of the estate tax, maintaining interest deductions as legitimate business expenses, lowering the capital gains tax, and other pro-business provisions. The House Ways and Means Committee has indicated that it will move comprehensive tax reform by early Fall 2017, setting the stage for congressional action.
Tax reform must recognize the diversity of the industry and create a level playing field for all, not just certain groups. “Corporate only” reform, which has been suggested by some as the quickest route to passing a bill, would disadvantage a significant portion of businesses in the food industry including the fresh produce industry. As part of broad business coalitions, United Fresh support tax reform but emphasizes that sound policy will require a delicate balance among many different interests.
Two areas of specific focus on tax reform should include:
- Tax Extenders: The group of tax laws frequently called “tax extenders” contains a number of provisions important to the food industry. In addition to several significant energy credits, the extender package includes the work opportunity tax credit, new markets tax credit, research and development tax credit, bonus depreciation, and Section 179 small business depreciation.
- Reform Estate Tax: One of the most important elements of tax reform must be to eliminate the estate tax. Family businesses in agriculture and throughout our supply chain find that their estates can be valued in the millions due to the property held, even though the business itself may not generate a cash flow that reflects this valuation. Now is the time to eliminate the “death tax” penalty.