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A Message from Tom Stenzel on Coronavirus/COVID-19

May 04, 2020

May 4, 2020

Dear produce industry members,

There are some important updates in our continuing efforts to support industry financial recovery.

As you know, the new USDA Farmers to Families program will soon begin purchasing $100 million per month in fresh produce. We understand that more than 600 organizations got proposals in for this past Friday’s deadline, and the Agriculture Marketing Service now expects to announce grants by this coming Friday, May 8. There are surely going to be hiccups in launching such a major new program so quickly, but this is progress nonetheless.

The USDA continues to work on its direct payment program to provide modest support for grower and grower-shipper losses from the COVID crisis. We understand that USDA has proposed payment rules to the Office of Management and Budget, and hopes to get approval in the near future to announce a sign-up period and process for payment distribution.

In a major step today, USDA announced more than $470 million in purchases of agriculture commodities through its Section 32 program. USDA is working to relieve market surpluses identified by its economic analysis and commodity requests. For produce, USDA will be purchasing $125 million spread among pears, potatoes, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tart cherries and asparagus.

Finally, we’ve been working with members of Congress who tomorrow will introduce legislation to give states the option to increase cash vouchers for fruit and vegetable purchases to $35 per month through the end of September 2020. The WIC program provides funds for low-income women and children five and under, and currently provides vouchers for fruits and vegetables of $9 month for children and $11 for women. The increase could translate to an additional $120 million a month in fruit and vegetable purchases among the WIC community. The legislation has strong Congressional support and we’re hopeful it will be included in the next coronavirus package that Congress passes.

We’re continuing to work on a number of issues to help make sure the industry can continue operating as the nation slowly opens its doors again. First and foremost, that means keeping our workers safe and on the job, from farm fields to packing houses to grocery stores. We’re working hard to ensure priority testing and personal protective equipment for food workers across the industry.

I’ll leave you tonight with a few videos herehere and here that companies are sharing about the steps they are taking. You inspire us all! 

Thank you to all of you for keeping the fresh produce supply chain moving!

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