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A Message from Tom Stenzel on Coronavirus/COVID-19

Apr 03, 2020

April 3, 2020
6:30 pm EDT/3:30 pm PDT

Dear produce industry member:

Thank you for your continuing work to feed the world. Every day brings new challenges, but it’s gratifying to see how our industry is rising to the occasion. Tonight’s message focuses on both of our priorities – keeping the produce supply chain moving, and driving financial relief for those most impacted by this crisis.

Update on keeping the supply chain moving:

With so much misinformation out there about food and packaging, we appreciated FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis for making personal comments to the media Thursday, and the new public service announcement posted by FDA. Frank repeats the fact that there’s no evidence COVID-19 spreads via food, nor is food packaging associated with transmission. Be sure to get this information and video to all of your teams and associates.

Keeping on the importance of our workers, we sent a proposal to Congress today calling for increased pay incentives for essential food workers. Many companies have already done this voluntarily, but it’s a matter of national security for the country to keep these heroes working. And if you haven’t seen it, you’ll be inspired by this video from member company Walter P. Rawl shared by our past Board member Charles Wingard.

While we’re working closely with our coalition of food associations and retailers to keep the supply chain moving, our coalition of agricultural organizations has sent this letter to all 50 governors and ag commissioners urging their attention on keeping agricultural production moving at the source. This is especially important when the media are questioning the safety of harvest workers, despite our clear protocols that are implemented for their protection.

We joined 80 agriculture associations on a letter to the Director of the U.S. Economic Council, Lawrence Kudlow, and USDA Secretary Perdue requesting urgent intervention to encourage the Federal Maritime Commission to promptly adopt its Proposed Rule on Detention and Demurrage.

Last, we’re pleased to highlight a new USDA website featuring a “Meals for Kids” interactive map that directs people to local sites where kids can get free meals. The site finder currently lists more than 20,000 meal sites from 23 states, and more sites will be added as states submit data each week. Given that millions of kids rely on school meals as their main source of nutrition, ‘Meals for Kids’ will be an important resource to keep kids fed and healthy, with as many fresh fruits and vegetables as we can push.

Update on driving financial relief:

United Fresh and our partners have been working hard to develop consensus for a program where USDA could quickly infuse financial support to the produce supply chain to help with the massive losses caused primarily by the shutdown of the foodservice side of the business. You saw our general letter sent with 75 groups earlier this week. Tonight, we’ve submitted another letter to USDA regarding a specific proposal on how funds could best be allocated to sustain companies throughout the supply chain. While there’s $9.5 billion allocated to fruits and vegetables, livestock, dairy and local food systems collectively, it’s still an uphill fight to secure our desperately needed share of that resource.

The Small Business Administration’s $350 Billion New SBA 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program opened today; while we understand that there are some delays and confusion, be sure to apply if you are eligible. All the details are on our website

In addition, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service launched the Employee Retention Credit, designed to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll. The refundable tax credit is 50% of up to $10,000 in wages paid by an eligible employer whose business has been financially impacted by COVID-19.

Finally, a personal observation – our team has been getting many questions about whether the supply chain is slowing down at retail, while others are fearful there won’t be enough produce coming forward. Fears on both ends of the supply chain are to be expected. These are unprecedented times, and old patterns of sales and consumption are changing. We’re not likely to have a smooth supply chain for some time, so get used to the bumpiness, as hard as it is. But one thing I know, our retail community needs to keep promoting fresh fruits and vegetables – the supplies ARE coming, and people need our products for their health! 

P.S.:  I hope you’ve heard by now about United Fresh LIVE!, our new, free virtual event that will connect customers, suppliers and colleagues across the industry, even when we can’t be there in person. United Fresh LIVE! will be a network for business connections, discussion about the most critical issues facing our industry, inspiration from our heroes on the front line serving consumers, and more. Join us, launching June 15!

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