September 20-22, 2021 | Washington, D.C.
The United Fresh Washington Conference presents a unique opportunity for the fresh produce industry to share with Members of Congress and the Administration the important issues that impact our industry during our Virtual March on Capitol Hill!
This past September, 2020, attendees participated in congressional visits with elected leaders from around the country, gaining insight into what congressional members are saying about the issues impacting our supply chain, allowing us to deliver a diverse and unified voice of produce industry champions on Capitol Hill.
Download our reference guide to review the essentials of the key 2020 issues.
Current State of Play (as of September 2020)
Since March, most of our attention has been on recovery and stimulus programs to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our industry. This September, Congress will again be negotiating a COVID 4 package, blending the House of Representatives’ passed $3 trillion HEROES Act and Majority Leader McConnell’s $1 trillion HEALS Act. With that backdrop, our primary focus for the United Fresh Washington Conference will consist of three topics:
- Maintain and enhance existing COVID-19 programs that have helped the industry
- Advocate for additional legislative and regulatory efforts to broaden assistance to the fresh produce industry
- Tell impactful and powerful stories about the fresh produce industry efforts during the pandemic, ranging from employee safety to the success of the Farmers to Families food box program
Current COVID-19 Programs Making an Impact in the Fresh Produce Industry
Paycheck Protection Program – The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a lifeline for small businesses across the country struggling to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Over 2,800 produce operations have been awarded $2.7 billion in funding from the Paycheck Protection Program. This funding has helped produce businesses retain employees and offset payroll, mortgages, rent and utilities. United Fresh supports efforts to extend this program and increase the flexibility for loan forgiveness, including payments to suppliers. This change would allow restaurants and other produce buyers to use PPP funds to pay produce suppliers for product received before the shutdown in March. In addition, the Senate bill contains a PPP Second Draw Loan for those small businesses that have seen their revenue decline by 35 percent or more in the first and second quarter of this year compared to the same time last year.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) – This USDA program has helped over 13,000 producers of fruits and vegetables totaling over $400 million in direct payments. This funding has been essential as growers have lost markets related to food service and demands have changed at the retail level. In addition, over 130 fresh produce commodities are eligible for CFAP payments. Both the House ($16.5 billion) and Senate ($20 billion) legislation include funding to maintain this important program.
Farmers to Families Food Box Program – USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program has been a huge success for the produce industry. Since its inception in April, almost 200 produce distributors have purchased produce from growers and delivered over $1.7 billion in fresh produce to families in need. The Administration announced in late August an additional $1 billion in funding for the program extending its value into the fall. It will be critical to share the positive impact this program has on our industry in order to see it continue.
Key Talking Points
- All three of these programs have been valuable tools in helping the fresh produce industry stabilize and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
- We encourage Congress to maintain and enhance these programs in their current negotiations for the COVID-19 stimulus legislation.
New Programs Needed as Part of a new COVID-19 Stimulus Package
Food Supply Protection Act – Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and 14 co-sponsors introduced S.4453 to support businesses, food banks and non-profits to help increase their capacity for additional cold storage, transportation, personal protective equipment and additional commercial and community infrastructure to support supply chain challenges. The bill also provides resources to make purchases of food for donation to various entities. This legislation is a high priority for the fresh produce industry as companies face increased costs in protecting their employees and managing changes in the supply chain. This legislation has a high probability of being included in the COVID 4 stimulus package currently being negotiated in Congress.
Providing Liquidity for Uncollectable Sales (PLUS) Act – H.R. 7707 was introduced by Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) and Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA). This legislation would provide a tax credit to produce companies for uncollectable debt for products that were shipped prior to COVID-19 shutdowns but have not yet been paid for. Together with other foodservice partners, we estimate some $10 billion in debts for food delivered, but not paid, remain outstanding.
FRNT (Frontline) Act – Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced S.4213 in July to provide essential workers a suspension of federal income and payroll taxes for up to an annual income of $50,000 annually. United Fresh supports this bill to assist our essential workers who have continued to produce and deliver food during this time of crisis.
The WIC Benefit Flexibility During COVID-19 Act – This legislation in the House (H.R. 6726) would ensure women and young children have access to fresh produce now when health and nutrition is more important as ever. This bill would temporarily increase the cash value voucher/benefit (CVV/CVB) for fruits and vegetables to $35 per month for eligible children and women enrolled in WIC, up from $9/$11, respectively. It is currently contained in the HEROES Act passed by House of Representatives.
Fresh Produce for Kids Act – H.R. 6564 allows for a nationwide waiver to provide a fresh produce snack regardless of serving setting. This bill was included in the House-passed HEROES Act. In addition, United Fresh is supporting the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act (H.R. 7887) introduced by Education and Labor Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), which would provide one-year of universal free meals to all students during what will be an uncertain year for schools and families.
The Get America Back to Work Act – H.R. 7528, introduced by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) would provide protection for businesses from frivolous lawsuits for those businesses have abided by government standards, and even exceeded them. Majority Leader McConnell has also included liability legislation (SAFE TO WORK ACT) introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in the HEAL’s Act. The fresh produce supply chain has taken proactive steps to comply with CDC regulations, as well as state and local regulations, the fresh produce industry has put the safety of their employees and their customers first and foremost. These legislative initiatives will help protect those efforts.
Fruits and Vegetables for Children in a Pandemic Act H.R. 8135 was introduced by Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) to add $35 per month for fruits and vegetables to existing Pandemic EBT benefits. When schools are closed for five or more days, students who otherwise qualify for free or reduced priced meals receive SNAP benefits equal to the value of their school meals while school is not physically in session. The fruit and vegetable benefit would be redeemed similar to how WIC fruit and vegetable benefits are handled at the retail level. This bill helps ensure that students continue to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables when schools are closed.
Key Talking Point
- While current programs are beneficial to our industry, more needs to be done to support our essential employees, address unpaid debts remaining from the foodservice shutdown, and ensure that fresh produce gets to families and children in the year ahead.
What’s Your Story?
One of the key objectives of our Virtual March on Capitol Hill congressional visits is to tell your story about the impact these issues are having on your business. Your personal experiences help elected officials visualize why it is important to continue to offer resources from the federal government to address these issues.
We suggest you prepare to tell two types of stories:
- Share positive examples of how current programs have helped your business. Share with members if you’ve supplied commodities to a distributor packing Farmers to Families food boxes, or maybe you have your own contract with USDA. Talk about your PPP loans and how it’s helped you keep employees on the payroll.
- Share the pain that you’re still experiencing: the increased costs you’re paying to keep your employees safe, the debts that remain unpaid by restaurants from the foodservice shutdown, your concerns over trial lawyers suing your company if someone gets sick, even if you’ve done everything the government has recommended to protect employees.
United Fresh is here to help you navigate these unconventional, yet critical, meetings. This year’s Washington Conference programming is designed to prepare you for your congressional visits. You also might want to reference these additional resources:
- Key Congressional Committees for the Fresh Produce Industry
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable State Profiles
- United Fresh Government Relations Team