Washington Insider-- Thursday

Business Groups to Fight Visa Limits

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

USDA Sent Requests On Apples, Potatoes Relative To CFAP Program

A group of House lawmakers and the National Potato Council (NPC) have sent USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue letters calling for apples to be made eligible for payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and for expanded payments to potato producers.

The lawmakers argue that apples prices fell from 6.5% to 24.9% over the period covered by CFAP and shipping volumes of the product have declined 24%. “This steep price decline clearly makes apple growers eligible for CFAP payments, based on the USDA’s requirement of a 5 percent-or-greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers said.

NPC said data shows that potatoes have seen a price decline of 20.51% over the period covered by CFAP, well above the price threshold of a 5% decline in prices set by USDA. NPC calls on USDA to make potatoes eligible for category one payments, to expand the category two payment level from the current four cents per pound and the category three payment level of one cent per pound. Both requests were sent to USDA via letters dated June 22.

NPC is also holding their virtual summer meeting today with a focus on the COVID-19 impacts on the industry.

USDA has paid out over $4 billion in the program as of June 22.


Lawmakers Focus On Major Meat Packers, Worker Protections and Exports

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., want information from four major U.S. meat companies on the actions they took to protect workers from COVID-19 and on the level of meat they produced during March-May, their level of exports to China and to other countries, the average increase in wholesale prices, average change in prices paid to producers and whether they increased their imports of livestock from outside the U.S.

The letter was sent to Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill and Smithfield Foods.

The lawmakers express alarm at exports of U.S. pork, beef and poultry to China and other destinations over the period, stating that exports of beef and pork totaling 1.3 billion pounds from March 20 through early June “actually exceeded the amount of lost production” from issues related to COVID-19. “Indeed, your companies manipulated this crisis to achieve substantial deregulatory measures that placed your workers at even greater risk,” the letter stated.

The lawmakers requested the companies provide the information by June 30.

Washington Insider: Business Groups to Fight Visa Limits

The Hill is reporting this week that business groups are pushing back on the president’s new limits on work visas and are hinting at possible legal action against the recent executive order they see as an attack on legal immigration.

The backlash follows President Trump’s Monday executive order that slapped new limits on foreign workers, a “hard line immigration move seen as an appeal to his base as the presidential election draws near,” The Hill says.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had lobbied the White House against imposing the order, said it “is likely to stifle job gains at a time when the economy needs fewer restrictions, not more.” The Chamber’s CEO, Thomas Donohue told the press that the president’s proclamation is a “severe and sweeping attempt to restrict legal immigration. Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back.”

Donohue had called on the president to not impose the visa policies. The Chamber’s top lobbyist, Neil Bradley, also pressed National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on the issue in a letter last month.

The order now could trigger a flurry of lawsuits, something the Chamber and others haven’t ruled out, The Hill said. It says it is “considering all available options” to ensure our immigration system allows employers to meet their workforce needs, Jon Baselice, executive director of immigration at the Chamber, told The Hill.

In addition, a National Association of Manufacturers spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that litigation isn’t off the table for them either.

The executive order suspends the issuance of temporary work visas, including H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas, through the end of 2020. H-2A visas for agriculture are not affected by the order.

H-1B visas are set aside for skilled workers, especially in the technology industry, and H-4 visas are given to their spouses. H-2B visas apply to seasonal workers; J-1 visas are for researchers, scholars and au pairs; and L-1 visas are for executives who transfer to the U.S. after working for the same employer abroad.

Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Uber are among technology companies that have spoken out against the president’s proclamation.

In addition to the legal ramifications, experts argue that the president’s order is bad for the economy, especially at a time when it’s trying to climb out of the coronavirus hole. “If you really care about the U.S. economy, U.S. competitiveness and opportunity for U.S. citizens, cutting back on skilled immigration has very much the unintended consequence of being harmful in those domains,” said Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University Fuqua School of Business.

Alexander Arnon, a senior analyst at Penn Wharton Budget Model working on immigration issues, said business groups have study after study to back up their opposition to the administration’s action. “The arguments made in the proclamation are not sound and there is a lot of reason to believe this will hurt the economic recovery,” he said.

The administration claims the order will help the unemployment rate, which more than tripled after the pandemic took hold. It argues that during “extraordinary circumstances” these visas “pose an unusual threat” to American workers seeking employment.

“I understand the instinct to protect American workers, to give them opportunity in light of what is really a terrifying economic crisis,” Boulding said. “Having said that, the evidence is clear that this is not the way to do it. What we know in terms of the economic impact of skilled immigration, skilled immigration is actually job-creating for Americans.”

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch Trump ally, said that suspending the temporary work visas will have a “chilling effect” on the economic recovery. And, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons, said in a blunt statement that the president’s action weakens the manufacturing industry, “a sector the president has long courted with his criticism of previous trade agreements.”

Like Donohue, Timmons sent a letter to the President earlier this month about how immigrants’ contributions often create opportunities for American workers and strengthen the overall economy.

The effect of the order will likely take months to show up in any measurable way in the economy but major companies are already warning of immediate, drastic effects for their workers.

The Business Roundtable, which is made up of CEOs from leading U.S. companies with Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon serving as chairman, said its members are worried about the effect of the executive order and “fear that it will disrupt business operations, the lives of our employees and ultimately harm our ability to do our part to rebuild the economy,” the group said in a statement.

So, we will see. Access to overseas sources of labor has long been valuable to U.S. firms, so the new order has come as something of a surprise to a number of large operations. However, whether they succeed in softening the administration’s stance is an issue producers should watch closely as the season advances, Washington Insider believes.

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