Ag Policy Blog

COVID-19 Updates, Including House Ag Resources Page

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Some updates on the federal response to COVID-19 include a letter from lawmakers to USDA for livestock aid and a resource page put together by the House Agriculture Committee. (DTN file image)

Peterson unveils House Ag COVID-19 page, talks to Perdue

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., today unveiled the committee COVID-19 Resource Page, a collection of updates, announcements and online resources detailing programs available to those affected by the pandemic, as well as adjustments made by the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies serving the food, agriculture and rural economic supply chain to respond to the emergency.

Peterson said he talked to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue by telephone Monday. “We talked about volatility in the commodity markets, particularly for our livestock and poultry industries, the bleak conditions for dairy farmers, and the status of our food supply chain. I want to thank Secretary Perdue and the team at USDA for their efforts to continue to monitor America’s food supply and provide needed assistance and flexibility in this emergency situation,” Peterson added.

https://agriculture.house.gov/…

Lawmakers Write USDA for Cattle Aid

A bipartisan group of 143 senators and congressmen wrote USDA on Wednesday asking Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide immediate assistance to cattle producers using funds from the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the need for domestic food security,” the lawmakers wrote. “All farmers and ranchers are vital to our country’s ability to keep food on the table in a future pandemic or related crisis, and many producers, including young producers, are often highly leveraged and cannot fall back on years of equity in a time of crisis. As such, we urge you to quickly deliver relief to producers as we work to lessen the economic impact of this pandemic.”

The full group of lawmakers who joined the letter can be viewed here. https://bit.ly/…

Consumer Reports Urges FSIS to Protect Inspection Personnel

Consumer Reports sent newly confirmed Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears a letter Tuesday, urging her to go public with the number of Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel who test positive for COVID-19 and to protect FSIS personnel so that the nation will continue to have a safe food supply.

“I think FSIS would rightfully say that they have no jurisdiction over worker safety,” Brian Ronholm, Consumer Reports director of food policy, told The Hagstrom Report in an email. “However, we are in a situation now during this pandemic where there is direct overlap between food safety, food supply, and worker safety. Through greater transparency, and by virtue of its existing authority of maintaining vigilance over SSOP (Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure) and HACCP, (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), FSIS has the opportunity to play a broader public health role during this critical time.”

Consumer Reports letter: https://bit.ly/…

USDA Holding Food Banks in Check

Federal agencies such as USDA's FSIS, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Transportation, the CFTC and so on are all finding ways to reduce, freeze, eliminate or ignore regulations on businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

But rest assured, not all is lost in the regulatory world. USDA is still holding feet to the fire at food banks. As the Washington Post reports, staff and volunteers at food banks are still required to conduct interviews and collect paperwork information for people wanting groceries that often includes food provided by the federal government.

The State Department can waive interviews for people applying for H-2A visas to come into the U.S. to work, but USDA doesn’t want to waive interviews for people who say they need food aid. Due to fears over the coronavirus, that basically means local food-bank volunteers are taking more risks handing out food than people at nearly every federal agency that has shut down all direct contact with people, including much of USDA.

USDA said income eligibility requirements "cannot be waived," the Washington Post reported, though a few states -- Virginia, Pennsylvania and Louisiana -- have received some emergency waivers.

Look, if it is high-risk for volunteers to collect this required information for USDA, then perhaps every food bank in the country should request USDA send staff to collect the required paperwork. That would probably immediately lead to swift action to solve the problem.

-- Chris Clayton

Washington Post article https://wapo.st/…

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

(CZ\SK)

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