After months of work, two of United Fresh’s most important priorities have been addressed this weekend – a long-debated Congressional agreement on a new COVID Relief Package, and a strong CDC recommendation that essential food and ag workers on the front line be prioritized for vaccination.
COVID Relief Package:
Congress is expected to vote and approve a third COVID relief package today and the President is expected to sign the bill. In total, $26 billion was allocated to agricultural and nutrition related programming. Below are key provisions of interest to the fresh produce industry regarding the package:
USDA Agriculture and Nutrition Programs
COVID-related support for agriculture producers and food purchases – $11.2 billion
- No less than $1.5 billion to purchase food and agriculture products for distribution, especially fresh produce, dairy, and meat, to those in need
- Provides $225 million in supplemental payments to producers of specialty crops if they lost their crop in 2019
Specialty Crop Block Grant Program – $100 million
- Additional $100 million for Specialty Crop State Block Grants to mitigate challenges related to COVID at the state level
Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) – $100 million
- Additional funding from LAMP program originally established in 2018 Farm Bill designed to target small and medium sized producers for a broad range of eligible support. Eligible entities must show impact from COVID-19.
GusNIP Fruit and Vegetable Incentives – $75 million
- Emergency increase in funding for retail SNAP fruit and vegetable incentive projects
- Increases monthly SNAP benefits by 15% through June 2021 and expands eligibility to working college students
- Additional $5 million for expanding SNAP online purchasing program
- Directs USDA to establish taskforce to identify alternative delivery models for WIC, including curbside and other safe purchasing methods
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
- Additional $300 billion in funding for a second round of PPP loans, which were used widely by produce companies
- Specifically to address a need we pushed for produce and food distributors, expands eligible expenses under PPP loans to include expenses for unpaid debts for food due to COVID shutdowns. Also makes perishable goods eligible for PPP loans before or at any time during the time of the applicable covered loan.
What Wasn’t Included
Unfortunately, tense negotiations led to several important priorities being left out of this agreement. United Fresh will continue to lobby strongly for these provisions in the next Congress and with the Biden Administration.
- Outside of PPP, no targeted relief for restaurants was included, as proposed in the RESTAURANTS Act
Liability Protection Provisions
- Congress agreed to tackle liability provisions in a separate bill that will include funding for state and local governments along with limited liability protections for businesses. We will provide additional updates as the process evolves.
WIC Cash Value Benefit Increase
- The final package failed to include the state option to temporarily include a WIC cash value benefit increase to $35/month.
Vaccine Prioritization – Strong CDC Recommendations:
This weekend the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that essential frontline food and ag workers receive priority access for vaccinations in Category “1b”. This means our frontline workers from farm to grocery store fall right behind “1a” status for frontline health care workers and long-term care facilities residents and employees.
While this is a very strong statement from the federal government, state and local authorities still have the final say in how doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are allocated. We are pleased, however, that the incoming Biden Administration is supportive of this priority. United Fresh and allies have been meeting with the Biden team over the past several weeks to convey the importance of vaccinating these essential workers as soon as possible.
We will keep you informed as to any further developments.