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A Message from Tom Stenzel on Coronavirus/COVID-19

Apr 16, 2020

April 16, 2020; 6:40 pm EDT/3:40 pm PDT

Dear Produce Industry Members:

Continued thanks for all you’re doing, and good health to you, your families and your associates.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue appeared with the President at last night’s White House briefing and showed strong support for the men and women who continue to grow, pack, process, deliver and provide food for our consumers. Americans are learning that “first responders” in times of crisis are not limited to medical and health care workers, but also include our essential food industry workers.

Secretary Perdue also urged state and local authorities to support and follow the CDC and FDA guidance for what to do when a food worker tests positive for the virus. We are essential businesses and must not close unless in dire circumstances – that’s why one of the first projects United Fresh worked on with colleagues in other food sectors was how to separate and protect workers, sanitize and reopen food facilities to keep the food supply moving. This guidance is still critical, so make sure to share with any local officials if you get pressures outside of these recommendations.

Additional insights for tonight:

  • We’re pleased to see the formal USDA action to allow U.S. growers to hire from within the H-2A worker community already in the United States. This will help meet the needs of growers to keep the harvest moving.
  • We’re also pleased to see the “fruits of our labor” as schools begin to shift their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack program to curbside pick-up points. This was a significant regulatory change.
  • While talking about schools, United Fresh has been able to form a new partnership with the School Nutrition Association (SNA) representing school nutrition professionals to connect produce distributors to school foodservice authorities requesting single-serve, individually wrapped produce as part of their meal distributions.
  • We continue to push hard with the Administration to begin distribution of funds approved in the CARES Act passed by Congress to support the fruit and vegetable industry. Through numerous meetings we believe that some financial relief is coming soon, but it can’t come soon enough.
  • We still urge everyone who can to apply for relief through the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, and the Main Street Lending Program for larger businesses. You’ve likely read today that the small business program has already exhausted the $350 billion in this program – but don’t consider it over. We expect Congress will move past its partisan divide and replenish funds in this program.  We’re fighting to get more companies eligible, but honestly, it’s an uphill fight.

I’ll leave you tonight with a personal thought – as our Chairman Michael Muzyk has said, we’ve never seen the outpouring of care and support for our customers and one another throughout our produce community as we have during this crisis. But as this crisis drags on, and more and more of our friends and companies are suffering financially, there can be a tendency to fight only for one’s self interest. Now is the time that we need to stick together in our honorable mission to feed the world with the healthiest products on the planet. Now more than ever, being United makes all the difference.

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