CA: Costa Releases Framework to Support Agriculture During COVID-19 Crisis

Joel Hastings

Following weeks of collaboration with a bipartisan group of local and national stakeholders, Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16) released a framework to provide critical support to the nation’s agriculture industry, which has suffered significant losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Congressman Costa is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.

 

 

“We must act quickly to secure our food supply during this pandemic,” Costa said. “That means passing a clear and definitive relief package to support our farmers, farm workers and the partners that deliver high-quality food to the American people. With so many Americans out of work and struggling, we also need to increase our support to food banks and to food assistance programs. Our national security depends on Congress acting now.”

Restaurants and school closures have disrupted the food supply chain, resulting in unprecedented losses this year. It has had a tremendous impact on California’s robust farm community, which produces more than 400 different crops and accounts for more than $40 billion dollars in production.

Rep. Costa has worked to build bipartisan support for his plan. He collaborated with California members Rep. TJ Cox (CA-21), Josh Harder (CA-10), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), John Garamendi (CA-03), Mike Thompson (CA-05), and Salud Carbajal (CA-14) to ensure the diverse nature of the state’s agriculture is well represented. In addition, Costa has worked with the United Farm Workers and extensive industry leaders in dairy and specialty crops, along with small farmers, for input and support. The Framework was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who encouraged the effort and took the ideas under consideration for inclusion into upcoming legislation.

The result is a comprehensive framework, which is being crafted into legislation, to provide upwards of $68 billion dollars.  The framework includes:

Ensure the Integrity of the Food Supply Chain

  • Provide direct financial assistance to agricultural employers for the purpose of providing personal protective equipment, sick leave, family leave, and premium pay in line with support for other frontline workers included in our nation’s critical infrastructure.
  • Provide funding for childcare services for essential food supply workers.
  • Provide direct financial assistance for the implementation of CDC and OSHA worker safety guidance on farms and in food processing facilities.
  • Ensure sufficient funding is in place to maintain plant protection, animal health, and other inspection services.
  • Support our rural health centers so workers and farmers have access to proper health care and testing resources.
  • Until the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038) can become law, we must provide proper legal status to the essential workers of our food supply chain who are at risk of deportation.

Specialty Crops and Research

  • Create a Produce Market Stabilization Program to include direct payment to specialty crop growers and purchases of specialty crops
  • Increase funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
  • Make the necessary investments in research to ensure that we are innovating through this crisis to emerge prepared for the future.
  • Provide funding for domestic marketing of fruits and vegetables.

 

 

Dairy, Livestock and Other Commodities

  • Create a program to balance supply and demand, to ensure milk prices remain stable through the crisis.
  • Provide the opportunity for dairy processors to apply for recourse loans to ensure they have enough working capital to maintain operations.
  • Purchase surplus dairy products for donation to food banks so we prevent waste and provide for those in need.
  • Prevent potential payment defaults from impacting livestock producers by creating a statutory dealer trust like outlined in the SALE Act (H.R. 6067).
  • Create new support mechanisms and waive prohibitive requirements that prevent pima cotton growers from accessing vital safety net programs.

Nutrition

  • Increase benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a win-win for farmers and those who are suffering through this unprecedented crisis.
  • Expand the Farm to Food Bank Program to provide funding to agricultural producers to harvest, pack, and ship their products to food banks and other community partners.
  • Grant waivers to the school lunch program to allow other household members to receive school lunch benefits. A waiver is already in place to allow parents to pick up school meals for their children, parents should be able to benefit from the program as well.
  • Increase funding for the Healthy Fluid Milk Incentive Program.

Paycheck Protection Program Amendments

  • Amend the Paycheck Protection Program to make it more flexible for agricultural operations and to serve a larger cross-section of the food supply chain.

Foreign Agriculture Programs

  • Emergency funding for Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation programs such as the Market Access Program.
  • Make emergency purchases for international food aid distributions.

Rural Development

  • The need for broadband connectivity has never been more clear. We must make the investments in rural broadband infrastructure to ensure that we bridge this divide and emerge from this crisis more connected and ready for the next generation of agriculture innovation.
  • Small, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers face significant hurdles to receive federal aid. We must increase funding for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program to help connect the most vulnerable producers with the resources they need to make it through this crisis.

Rep. Costa, with support from Rep’s Cox, Harder, Panetta, Thompson, Graramendi and Carbajal, sent a letter to Congressional leadership advocating for inclusion of these provisions in the next Coronoavirus relief bill.

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