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Coronavirus: Fresh Produce Industry Resource Page

Apr 02, 2020

If you’re a consumer looking for information about fresh produce, click here.

In these unprecedented times, we’ve created this resource to help the fresh produce industry and supply chain partners address commonly asked questions, and resources that can help keep you and your business informed.

If my business is suffering, how can I get relief?

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest loans due to the damaging effects of the coronavirus. After the passage by the House and Senate of the CARES Act, an additional $10 billion has been added to SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and $350 billion has been allocated to SBA’s new Paycheck Protection program. Please use the following information as a resource to learn more about SBA loans.

Information is changing rapidly, please continue to refer to our resources as well as these helpful governments sites for the latest most up-to-date information.

COVID Lending Programs:

CARES ACT SUMMARY

IRS launches Employee Retention Credit

The Treasury Department and IRS today, April 1, 2020, began implementing the Employee Retention Credit included in the coronavirus economic package signed into law last week. The program provides a fully refundable tax credit for 50 percent of wages, up to $10,000, for each employee kept on the payroll by businesses that have taken a financial hit because of the pandemic.

Businesses qualify if they have been fully or partially shuttered by government order, or if their gross receipts are below 50 percent of what they took in during a comparable quarter in 2019. They are no longer eligible once their gross receipts rise above 80 percent of the comparable quarter.

The IRS published guidelines today, April 1, 2020, for businesses that want to apply for the credit, which is applied against the employers’ share of payroll taxes.

The agency also issued a notice to shield employers from penalties they may have incurred for failing to deposit employment taxes when tapping a tax credit Congress created to help them cover wages for sick leave and family leave.

How does PACA play into this?

One of the most important regulations supporting the fresh produce trade is the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, and especially the PACA Trust. The PACA trust enables produce sellers to have first priority for repayment of debts in the event of a customer’s bankruptcy. Produce sellers actually have higher priority than banks, tax payments or any other debts in the event of a dissolution of assets to debtors.

We strongly advise you to be careful to not inadvertently waive your rights under the PACA trust. The USDA PACA branch has confirmed specific guidance.

USDA PACA FAQs

Where can i find information specific to my state?

The National Governors Association website is a one-stop-shop for state-by-state information.

In light of “shelter in place” and curfews, is food production an essential critical infrastructure?

Yes, the food and agricultural sectors are considered one of the nation’s critical infrastructures. 

The Department of Homeland Security identifies the specific subindustries that comprise critical infrastructures including food and agriculture. 

Review the Food and Ag List

Over 100 associations representing the entirety of the US economy, urged the White House to promote state and local alignment in defining critical infrastructure to limit confusion by local authorities charged with enforcing state or local restrictions

Is there a standard certification to show authorities that a worker legitimately works in a “critical infrastructure”?

If your employees would benefit from a letter that affirms that they are working in support of critical infrastructure, you can download an edit-able file to adapt to your business. TIA (the Transportation Intermediaries Association) also shared a form letter At this time, there is no government issued certification/ authorization.

Download Critical Infrastructure Worker Documentation

If you are having trouble transporting food or with other major supply chain disruptions please contact FEMA’s national emergency business operations center at nbeoc@fema.dhs.gov

Guidance for individuals traveling to work in the United States (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Mexico in furtherance of such work). Reference Here.

How does COVID-19 impact H-2A? 

On 3/31 the Department of Labor issued a Frequently Asked Questions document addressing H-2A

As a result of our efforts, a number of important steps have been taken related to our workforce. As of March 27, H-2A and H-2B workers will be allowed to enter the U.S. as members of the essential ag workforce.

READ ANNOUNCEMENT

Additional resources:

Can fresh produce transmit the COVID-19 virus?

There is no evidence that fresh produce (or any other food, or other product/material) can transmit the virus. FDA’s Frank Yiannas directly addresses this in a post, and there is a food-specific FDA page that has additional detail.

What should my company do if an employee gets sick?

multi-association group developed guidance continues to be updated to be aligned with CDC and FDA recommendations. The most recent version can always be found at www.feedingus.org. The US Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) addresses this issue here.

Where can I get more hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment?

Hand sanitizer is in short supply. Here are two resources you can use to find a distillery near you that is producing hand sanitizer:

United Fresh was invited as one of five “industry representatives” to the National Resource Coordination Center of FEMA/ Department of Homeland Security’s supply chain workgroup food subgroup and continues to work to find solutions for members.

CDC has a “PPE burn rate calculator” that can be adapted to help companies manage their PPE.

How can I encourage employee practices?

Several associations have developed resources that can be used with employees. These are a few:

What can my business do to prepare?

CDC posted guidance for employers and businesses related to Coronavirus COVID-19. WHO also provides guidance on this topic.

CDC: Learn More

WHO: Learn More

Additional Employer and Workplace Resources:

DOT has suspended Hours of Service Rules, how does that impact fresh produce transportation? 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suspended the current rules regarding Hours of Service for vehicles carrying supplies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This generally applies to the delivery of fresh produce. Only those supplies being provided to alleviate the crisis (including food) are determined to be eligible for this exemption. Not all requirements under the Hours of Service rule are exempted including drug and alcohol use by drivers

Read the Rule Announcement

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has published general emergency FAQ’s 

FMCSA General Emergency FAQ's

How does COVID-19 impact PACA, Inspections and other services provided by USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Services? 

USDA AMS has sent a message to their customers outlining that they will continue to provide some services to companies that do business with AMS. They also sent a letter of commitment to industry partners.

USDA AMS Letter

However, on 3/31 USDA AMS indicated that in some cases, such as for Harmonized GAP audits conducted by USDA AMS, domestic origin verification, and plant systems audit certifications, certificates may be extended by 60 days.

Are FDA/ FSMA – related inspections affected? Are 3rd party audits needed to comply with FDA food safety rules?

Yes. FDA has announced that companies (FSVP importers or “receiving facilities” as defined in the Preventive Controls Rule) will not be penalized if they are unable to conduct 3rd party audits in support of their supply chain control/ FSVP programs due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Additionally, FDA is temporarily suspending most foreign facility inspections, and many domestic inspections, unless they are mission critical (e.g., related to an outbreak or Class 1 recall). Further, inspections may be pre-announced.  The agency is also considering alternative ways to perform inspections.

Additional Resources:

Where can I get current information?

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