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A Message from United Fresh’s Robert Guenther and Mollie Van Lieu on USDA’s Buy Fresh Program

Apr 21, 2020

April 21, 2020; 7:15 pm EDT/4:15 pm PDT

Dear produce industry members,

Today was another important day in the implementation of the CARES Act as USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) shared the details of their new “Buy Fresh” program.  This program was part of the larger Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program (CFAP) that was announced by President Trump and Secretary Purdue on Friday. The “Buy Fresh” program will purchase $100 million per month, for six months, in fresh produce from regional and local distributors whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels, and other food service entities. We commend USDA’s AMS for establishing this unprecedented program that will utilize the fresh produce supply chain, from growers to distributors, to deliver consumer-ready fresh produce boxes to organizations serving the rising number of families in need.

Most important, this program comes on the heels of Tom Stenzel’s March 20 letter to Secretary Perdue and Congressional leadership urging the creation of such a program that would purchase and move current and upcoming produce supplies through industry market channels to community food banks and nonprofit feeding sites. This was followed by an April 6 industry letter to USDA with Congressional support. We applaud USDA for this innovative approach and response to our industry needs and capabilities, and look forward to working with them as this program is implemented. Request for proposals will open on April 24 on the CFAP website.

United Fresh will continue to work closely with USDA to ensure that the design of this program can be effective and efficient in supporting the fresh produce supply chain and getting fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need.

As we write this letter, the Congressional leaders and the White House have reached a deal to fund the Paycheck Protection Program.  This $484 billion funding bill replenishes $370 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program and expressly allows an “agricultural enterprise” with no more than 500 employees to access the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. This was previously ambiguous in the COVID-3 package.  While the Senate just passed this legislation, it still needs to make its way through the House of Representatives before it can be signed by the President.

Last evening, the President announced that he was ceasing all legal immigration programs. Since this announcement, United Fresh has discussed with several Administration officials that have assured us that H-2A and H-2B workers essential to the nation’s food supply would be exempted from this immigration ban. While we are still waiting on the final Executive Order, we feel certain that industry members who utilize H-2A and H-2B workers will not be directly impacted by this announcement.

While we celebrate USDA’s AMS program, we are well aware that there still is not enough relief, nor can it get into your hands quickly enough. New programs take time to implement, but our hope is that a successful launch of this initiative will lay the groundwork for a shift in a longer-term approach to ensure that all Americans, even in crisis, can meet fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations. Today’s advancement is another stone in the foundation of tomorrow’s efforts, and we will continue to work on your behalf to keep our supply chain in business.

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