USDA Coronavirus Page
Small Business Development Center - Personal Paycheck Protection Program
CFAP - Coronavirus Food Assistance Program
Ag Worker Protocols - Idaho Reopening
Employer Guidelines - Department of Labor Covid 19 Instructions
Idaho Governor's Reopening Phases & Criteria Page
Idaho Governor's Isolation Order
FDA Coronavirus Page
State of Idaho Coronavirus Page
♦ This web page was specifically developed for "major" Covid-19 announcements, links, and developments relating to Idaho agriculture 2020 - The pace of major announcements have slowed during the middle of 2020 compared to March - June.
This page will remain open pending the possibility of new developing stories in 2020. For weekly stories relating to Idaho agriculture, including Covid-19, please go to www.idahofb.org/News-Media. ”
♦ June 18, 2020 - Americans Support COVID-19 Aid to Farmers; Trust Remains High
Trust in America’s farmers and ranchers remains high amid the devastating blow delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic. A new American Farm Bureau Federation poll shows 84% of Americans trust the nation’s farmers and the same overwhelming majority support financial assistance from the government for farmers struggling to keep from going under because of the pandemic. “The results of the survey indicate a growing understanding of how important a stable food supply is to the health and well-being of our nation,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “Shortages at grocery stores and other food supply chain shockwaves caused by the pandemic gave many people a new understanding of the crucial role of America’s farmers and ranchers and the importance of their survival through the COVID-19 economic storm. It is so heartening to know that through it all, the American people’s trust in farmers is unwavering.” Many struggling farmers were left out of initial federal aid, and some who received assistance are still being hurt by COVID-19 losses.
USDA estimates suggest the decline in commodity value alone for 2019, 2020 and 2021 production totals almost $50 billion. This does not include all of agriculture’s losses, which would be billions more. When the pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders, the market for several crops disappeared almost overnight, causing prices paid to farmers to drop drastically. It came at a time when farmers were already facing economic challenges following two years of trade wars. Farm bankruptcies for the 12-month period ending March 2020 increased 23% from the previous year and are expected to climb higher as a result of the pandemic. Because the pandemic shockwaves continue to cause agricultural losses, the American Farm Bureau Federation is calling on lawmakers to address critical needs that still exist for farmers impacted by COVID-19. More broadly, the poll also reveals that a majority of Americans, 59%, also believe the federal government should classify U.S. agriculture as a matter of national security to ensure a stable food supply. Addressing agricultural labor shortages, ensuring farm and food worker safety, and protecting trade partnerships to stabilize agricultural markets are all part of prioritizing U.S. agriculture. A more in-depth look at the survey can be found here.”
♦ June 10, 2020 - AFBF Calls on Lawmakers to Help Farmers Through Food System Shockwave
The American Farm Bureau Federation is calling on lawmakers to provide critical resources to farmers impacted by the COVID-19 shockwave to the food system and to rural communities grappling with the pandemic’s impacts. Many struggling farmers were left out of initial federal aid, and some who received assistance are still being hurt with COVID-19 losses. As additional coronavirus relief is considered, Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall sent a letter to congressional leaders outlining the need.
The USDA’s most recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates suggest the decline in commodity value for 2019, 2020 and 2021 production adds up to almost $60 billion. This does not include all of agriculture’s losses, which would be billions more. “The economic losses across the U.S. agriculture sector are broad‐based, directly impacting farmers and ranchers and their supply chain partners – from input providers to end users,” Duvall wrote. “Producers have witnessed their markets shrink overnight or even disappear, while supply chains have been stretched to the limit in response to the pandemic. The widespread closures at the retail level are impacting consumer demand and purchasing patterns in ways that the industry has never experienced.” The list of priorities for additional COVID-19 relief legislation include: Relief Funding for Agricultural Producers
•Extend relief funding for losses incurred after April 15, 2020.
•Replenish Commodity Credit Corporation funding to $68 billion. •Include the Farming Support to States Act, which provides resources to state and local Departments of Agriculture.
•Support biofuel production facilities. Support for Livestock Producers
•Provide aid to independent and contract poultry producers.
•Open Conservation Reserve Program acres for emergency haying and grazing to feed livestock being kept longer than expected due to processing capacity issues.
•Waive overtime fees for FSIS meat inspectors in small and medium-sized packing plants. Rural Health Care •Increase funding for community health care centers. Small Business
•Expand eligibility and increase funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.
•Cover H-2A workers in PPP.
•Qualify rental payments for business-related items.
•Allow Farm Credit institutions to access the set-aside for small financial lenders. Rural Broadband •Fund expedited implementation of the Broadband DATA Act.
•Allow distressed communities access to the Economic Development Administration grants for broadband deployment. Agriculture Labor and Worker Safety
•Provide housing funding to accommodate social distancing guidelines for H-2A workers.
•Provide funding to offset the cost of PPE and sanitizing supplies.”
♦ June 4, 2020 - Congress agrees to ease PPP loan rules
President Donald Trump is expected to sign a bill giving farms and businesses more flexibility in how and when they can spend their Paycheck Protection Program loans and still get them forgiven. A House measure the Senate approved by unanimous consent Thursday evening increases from eight weeks to 24 weeks the time that businesses have to spend the proceeds of a PPP loan on payroll and other qualified expenses. The bill also lowers to 60% the amount of the loan that must be spent on payroll expenses in order for the loan to be forgiven.
The minimum is now 75%. The rest can be used for expenses such as rent and utilities. The bill passed the House 417-1 last week, The American Farm Bureau Federation wanted Congress to eliminate the minimum requirement for payroll expenses, but agricultural accountant Paul Neiffer said the extension to 24 weeks makes that requirement easier to meet. Congress created the program with the CARES Act to help small businesses survive the impact of the stay-at-home orders issued amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Many restaurants and other businesses, including some farms, have said they can't spend the money within the eight-week period required for loan forgiveness. As of May 30, banks had processed 127,465 PPP loans totaling $7.6 billion to farmers and other businesses in the sector classified by the Small Business Administration as "agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting." Farm Credit institution have made 13,851 loans totaling $1.3 billion. ”
♦ May 28,2020 - Idaho offers personal protection equipment through website
What is the Idaho PPE Exchange (IPX)? The IPX is a non-profit exchange to quickly connect buyers and sellers of PPE. The IPX seeks to assist Idaho buyers in locating potential sources of scarce but critical supplies. The IPX hopes that buyers will find sellers close to their operations to shorten the supply chain. The IPX has no financial interest in any suppliers/buyers. The IPX earns no revenue from the site or any transactions that occur as a result of the site. No buyer should take any comfort that a supplier on the IPX has been vetted by the IPX. The IPX takes no responsibility for the claims or activities of any supplier.
The IPX specifically does not make any comment, representation, or warranty on the reliability of the information posted, or the efficacy of any product that one may purchase from a supplier listed on the IPX. The IPX expressly warns each buyer to do their own due diligence before purchasing any product from any supplier whether listed on the IPX or not. IPX will not warranty or represent anything about any product posted. Caveat emptor rules the day. As a supplier, you assume full and total responsibility for truth in advertising, contract fulfilment, etc. ”
♦ May 26, 2020 - Idaho Delegation Encourages Farmers to Submit CFAP Applications
Direct payments for eligible farmers are open to submit application starting Tuesday May 26th Washington, D.C. - Starting on Tuesday, May 26th, eligible farmers and ranchers can begin submitting applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) administered by USDA. The program is the result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was supported by the entire Idaho Delegation, and includes $16 billion to provide immediate relief through direct payments to farmers and ranchers. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic, farmers and ranchers are encouraged to submit their application in a timely manner.
To apply, farmers are encouraged to contact their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. Meetings are currently by appointment only but local offices are available by phone and email for help processing the application. Applicants are also encouraged to visit https://www.farmers.gov/cfap for details on information needed to apply, the program, and eligibility. The program is open to a large range of commodities including but not limited to potatoes, dairy, livestock, malting barley, and many more. The USDA has also asked for more information on aquaculture and nurseries to be better understand the impacts due to COVID-19.
The Idaho Delegation has been closely following the agriculture losses due to the economic downturn and the associated shutdowns of the food service industry and communicating the needs of Idaho agriculture directly to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. The Delegation has sent letters to USDA outlining the effects of COVID-19 to dairy, potato, onion, cattle, sheep, grain, and hops production to ensure the CFAP program takes into account the diverse representation of the Idaho agricultural industry which is more than 20 percent of Idaho’s economy. The Idaho Delegation also sent letters to USDA expressing concerns with payment limitations given the larger sized farming and ranching operations in Idaho. The final rule on CFAP increased payment limitations from the original proposal. ”
♦ May 19, 2020 - COVID-19 IMPACTS IDAHO BUSINESS SURVEY RESULTS
Idaho Commerce, in partnership with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, conducted an Idaho business impact survey to gain insight into the economic and employment impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having on Idaho businesses and to identify potential opportunities of assistance. The survey opened on April 14, 2020 and closed on April 23rd, 2020, and collected 1255 responses. Read the full survey results... Key Findings:
• 69% of businesses reported suspending some or all operations due to COVID-19.
• 51% of businesses reported a decrease in employment. Of the 51% reporting a decrease in employment, 75% reported decreasing employment by more than 75%.
• 83% of businesses reported a decrease in revenue due to COVID-19. Of the 83% reporting a decrease in revenue, 41% reported a decrease of more than 75%.
• 67% of businesses reported their international business has been impacted by COVID-19. Of the 67% reporting international business impact, 78% reported an impact to exports and 22% to imports.
• At the time of the survey, 30% of businesses expected to recover and be back to normal operations within 6-12 months. 21% expected the recovery would take longer than 12 months. ”
♦ May 14, 2020 - U.S. Department of Transportation Modernizes Hours of Service Rules to Improve Safety and Increase Flexibility for America’s Truckers
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today published a final rule updating hours of service (HOS) rules to increase safety on America’s roadways by updating existing regulations for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers. “America’s truckers are doing a heroic job keeping our supply chains open during this unprecedented time and these rules will provide them greater flexibility to keep America moving,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. “The Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration listened directly to the concerns of truckers seeking rules that are safer and have more flexibility—and we have acted.
These updated hours of service rules are based on the thousands of comments we received from the American people. These reforms will improve safety on America’s roadways and strengthen the nation’s motor carrier industry,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen. First adopted in 1937, FMCSA’s hours of service rules specify the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers. In 2018, FMCSA authored an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to receive public comment on portions of the HOS rules to alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads. Subsequently, in August 2019, the Agency published a detailed proposed rule which received an additional 2,800 public comments. Based on the detailed public comments and input from the American people, FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service offers four key revisions to the existing HOS rules:
• The Agency will increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
• The Agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14 hour driving window.
• The Agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
• The Agency will change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
FMCSA’s final rule is crafted to improve safety on the nation’s roadways. The rule changes do not increase driving time and will continue to prevent CMV operators from driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break. In addition, FMCSA’s rule modernizing hours of service regulations is estimated to provide nearly $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers. The trucking industry is a key component of the national economy, employing more than seven million people and moving 70 percent of the nation’s domestic freight.
The new hours of service rule will have an implementation date of 120 days after publication in the Federal Register. The complete final rule is available here: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-service/hours-service-drivers-final-rule Truckers have played a key role in getting America through the COVID-19 public health emergency. FMCSA has provided regulatory relief to commercial drivers to get critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods to Americans in need. The nation’s truck drivers have been on the front lines of this effort and are vital to America’s supply chain. The latest information, declarations, and resources on FMCSA’s response to the COVID-19 are available at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/COVID-19 ”
♦ May 12, 2020 - House Democrats propose billions in additional farm relief
House Democrats released a massive new coronavirus relief bill that would provide $16.5 billion in additional direct payments to farmers and authorize USDA to compensate producers who have to dispose of livestock and poultry that can’t be sold because of processing disruptions. The HEROES Act, which the House is expected to vote on Friday, also would provide special assistance targeted toward dairy producers and fruit and vegetable growers as well as biofuel plants and textile mills. The bill would cost more than $3 trillion, eclipsing the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted in March. In addition to paying for disposal of livestock and poultry — pork producers have been hit especially hard by packing plant shutdowns — the bill also would allow USDA to assist agricultural processing plants to “ensure supply chain continuity during an emergency period.’’
The $16.5 billion earmarked for direct farm payments would be designed to both supplement $16 billion in payments that USDA is expected to send out in late May or June under its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and to also provide relief to farms that aren’t eligible for the first round. Chicken producers, for example, will be left out of the first round of CFAP payments. The bill also would direct USDA to account for price differences among commodities based on location, specialized varieties and farming practices, including commodities that are certified organic. The bill’s new spending would come on top of the $23.5 billion provided by the CARES Act. USDA is using $9.5 billion from that law to make the CFAP payments. The rules for the program haven’t been released but the payments are expected to be cover a larger portion of losses before April 15 than afterward. For the dairy industry the new bill includes the following provisions:
•Provide supplemental margin coverage to small-and mid-size dairies based on the difference the farms’ 2019 production and their production history under the Dairy Margin Coverage program. The bill also would encourage dairy farms to commit to participating in DMC for 2021-2023 by providing a payment worth 15% of annual premium costs.
•Authorize a program for donating dairy products to feeding programs. Milk used for donated products would be reimbursed at fluid milk prices.
•Authorize recourse loan program for dairy processors, packagers, marketers, wholesalers and distributors. The bill also includes:
•$100 million via Specialty Crop Block Grants to states to address supply chain issues.
•$50 million to support local farmers, farmers markets, and other local food outlets who are affected by COVID-19 market disruptions.
•$50 million to support beginning farmers and ranchers with financial, operational, and marketing advice in this difficult market.
•$28 million in block grants to state departments of agriculture for use to support existing farm stress programs.
Biofuel plants would be eligible for payments of 45 cents a gallon for fuel produced from Jan. 1 to May 1. For plants that were unable to produce for a month or more they could get payments of 45 cents on half their production during the corresponding period in 2019. Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse or Agri-Pulse West by clicking here. The bill also replenishes the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which offers farms and other businesses grants of up to $10,000, and ensures that Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients can write off expenses covered by the forgivable loans. The PPP loans don't have to be paid back if at least 75% of the proceeds are used to retain or rehire workers.
The bill also provides additional funding for feeding programs, including a temporary 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and a $30 a month increase in the minimum SNAP benefit. The bill also waives SNAP work requirements and bars USDA from implementing three rules that would reduce eligibility or benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly rejected the overall House bill as too expansive, but didn't rule out doing another coronavirus relief measure. He didn't address the agricultural spending in the House bill. Republicans are "assessing the effectiveness" of previous bills "before deciding to go forward," he said. He went on, "This is not a time for aspirational legislation. This is a time for a practical response to the coronavirus pandemic. We’re going to insist on doing narrowly targeted legislation ... that addresses the problems." ”
♦ May 8, 2020 - USDA Approves $1.2 Billion in Food Purchases to Help America’s Needy
The USDA approved $1.2 billion in contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program designed to connect excess meat, dairy and produce on farms with families facing food insecurity. The funding far exceeds the $100 million per month the department initially planned for the program, due to high interest and need. The program will purchase $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in dairy, $258 million in meat and $175 million in a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger relief organization, sent a letter to the USDA requesting a nimble approach to quickly and effectively get food from America’s farms to the nation’s food banks and others addressing food insecurity. The following statement may be attributed to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall: “We applaud the USDA for its quick action and flexibility in finding a way to get food from America’s farms to the dinner tables of those who need it most.
These food purchases will help the hungry while providing income to farmers and ranchers who have seen some markets for their food disappear during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The American Farm Bureau and Feeding America were among the first to call for a quick solution that links farmers with the nation’s food banks. USDA’s responsiveness and the early success of the food box program give hope to those in need and to farmers who have food ready to be harvested.” ”
♦ May 7, 2020 - Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicates meat plants may have turned the corner
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressed confidence at a White House meeting Wednesday that the meat shortages that have forced supermarkets to limit purchases should ease as meatpacking plants fully reopen within the next 10 days. “I think we've turned the corner. We'll see them coming back on line. Obviously, because of some infected employees, they won’t be full force for a while, but we think the stores will be -- you’ll see more variety and more meat cases fully supplied," Perdue said at the Oval Office meeting that included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Trump then pressed Perdue for a timetable. Perdue replied, "I’d say probably a week to 10 days where it’s fully back up." Reynolds said plants in Iowa continue running at reduced capacity but that only one facility, a Tyson Foods pork processing plant at Waterloo, remains closed.
A Tyson pork plant at Perry, where 58% of the workers tested positive for COVID-19, is running at 60% capacity, she said. “We'll have most of our facilities up and going. And so as we continue to keep them up and processing, we're going to hopefully prevent a really sorry situation where we were euthanizing some of our protein supply and really impacting the food supply, across the country but throughout the world and so this is critical infrastructure is an essential workforce,” Reynolds said. Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, defended the administration’s management of the crisis, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent a team to any plant where there is an outbreak to make sure that working conditions are safe.
Trump to call on meatpacking plants to remain open in new executive order “Our objective is two equal goals: No 1 is the safety and health of the workforce in our meat processing plants, and to ensure there’s strength in our food supply and getting people back to work,” Pence said. Trump was asked by reporters about beef being taken off the menus at some Wendy's locations. “I’m going to call Nelson Peltz,” the chairman of The Wendy’s Co., Trump said. Perdue has issued a pair of letters to governors and meat processors saying that plants that have slowed operations or shut their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic needed to develop plans for reopening them. Pork and beef processing capacity was down by 40% from last year at the end of April, according to a new report by CoBank, which predicted that meat shortages could persist into the summer. ”
♦ May 4, 2020 - Idaho rebound grants criteria and application process announced.
The Idaho Rebound Cash Grant will provide up to $10,000 in funding directly to eligible Idaho businesses. More than 30,000 small businesses could benefit from the $300 million in cash grants made available to businesses impacted by COVID-19. Eligibility criteria and application details include:
• Applications will be handled in two waves: o Eligible entities with one to 19 employees may apply starting at 12:00 noon MDT on May 11 through 12:00 noon MDT on May 18. o Eligible entities with one to 50 employees may apply starting at 12:00 noon MDT on May 18 through 12:00 noon MDT on May 22.
• Eligible applicants include sole proprietorships, partnerships, C-Corps, S-Corps, LLCs, 501(c)(3) nonprofits, 501(c)(6) organizations, 501(c)(19) veterans’ organizations, and tribal businesses.
• Grants may be used to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures which may include personal protective equipment (PPE), inventory, equipment, rent, and utilities. Funds must be expended in compliance with state and federal law. ”
♦ May 1, 2020 - Rural healthcare providers to receive $10B for fighting COVID-19
The Department of Health and Human Services will begin distributing $10 billion in the days ahead to rural health care providers responding to patients with COVID-19. According to HHS, the funding will be distributed to rural acute care general hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs), Rural Health Clinics (RHCs), and Community Health Centers. “HHS has put these funds out as quickly as possible, after gathering data to ensure that they are going to the providers who need them the most,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. Hospitals and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) will receive a minimum base payment plus a percent of their annual expenses, according to HHS. RHCs will receive a minimal level of support no less than $100,000, including additional payment based on operating costs.
CAHs will receive a minimum level of support of no less than $1,000,000 with additional payment based on operating costs. The National Rural Health Association was pleased the Trump administration’s announcement. “The funding announced hereon is a significant insertion of operating capital for rural providers of care across the nation,” Brock Slabach, senior vice president of member services at the National Rural Health Association told Agri-Pulse. “This demonstrates their appreciation for the difficult circumstances rural providers face as they deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.” Nearly half the rural hospitals across the country were already struggling financially before the coronavirus hit the U.S., leaving health care facilities scrambling to find cash to fight the virus. Many of them have had to shut their doors because healthy patients have delayed care and hospitals have canceled elective surgeries.
Providers who are eligible will begin receiving funds “in the coming days” through direct deposit according to the physical address of the facilities as reported to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Health Resources and Services Administration, regardless of their affiliation with organizations located in urban areas. HHS is also distributing $12 billion to 395 hospitals who provided inpatient care for 100 or more COVID-19 patients through April 10, and $2 billion of that will be distributed to the hospitals based on their Medicare and Medicaid disproportionate share and uncompensated care payments. ”
♦ April 30, 2020 - IDAHO REBOUND CASH GRANTS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Idaho small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and the backbone of our state’s economy. In response to the required business closures of the COVID-19 outbreak, the State of Idaho will facilitate Idaho Rebound Cash Grants for Small Businesses from Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars. Funds will reimburse small businesses the costs of business interruption caused by required closures.
IDAHO REBOUND GRANTS
• Total Program Funding: $300 million
• Individual Business Grant: Up to $10,000 • The program is targeting small businesses that did not receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds or received less than $10,000 through the PPP program.
• Eligibility is subject to qualifications to be finalized by the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee and made available on Tuesday, May 5 at 9 a.m. MST.
• All individual grants will be reported on transparent.idaho.gov.
• We anticipate applications opening on May 11, 2020.
• Applications will be facilitated by the State Tax Commission.
• To apply, small businesses will need to create a Taxpayer Access Point (TAP) account, if you do not already have one. o Small businesses are encouraged to create a TAP account as soon as possible, in advance of the application period opening on May 11. o To register for a TAP account, go to idahotap.gentax.com/TAP and click “Don’t have a login? Register here” beneath the “Log In” button. ”
♦ March 21, 2020 - President Trump Announces Plan to Reopen Processing Plants
WASHINGTON, April 28, 2020 – Today, President Trump announced he will sign an executive order to reopen meat packing facilities. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall has released the following statement:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis for American farmers. Farmers and ranchers face the heartbreaking decision to euthanize animals because of plant closures. It’s important for our elected leaders at all levels to understand the critical nature of this crisis. “We don’t yet know the details of the President’s actions to address meat packing plant closures but are hopeful it will protect the health and safety of workers while keeping farmers and ranchers in the business of providing food for families across America.”
♦ March 26, 2020 - Updates on Personal Paycheck Protection Program
Congress has approved additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and the SBA will begin accepting applications on Monday, April 27, 2020 at 10:30AM EST. U.S.
Small Business Administration release updated frequently Asked Questions for Lenders and Borrowers for the Paycheck Protection Program - CLICK HERE
Farm Bureau Bank is currently accepting applications and are working as expeditiously as possible to process them. While they will do everything they can to secure an SBA approval, please note that they cannot commit to all applications being approved by the SBA before funds are exhausted.
Farm Bureau Bank Contact Information:
CLICK HERE FOR PERSONAL PAYCHECK PROTECTION APPLICATION
Main Number: 1.800.492.3276 Main
♦ April 23, 2020 - Governor Little announces new webpage outlining phases and criteria to reopen Idaho; Creation of Economic Rebound Advisory Committee.
The Governor’s Office created Rebound.Idaho.Gov, a new online resource for Idahoans to track the state’s progress in reopening the state’s economy in stages to ensure a strong economic comeback. The plan will occur over four stages and sets forth specific criteria for Idaho to meet before moving into each of the four stages, as well as business protocols that must be followed for certain business to open up in the various stages. The Governor also announced the creation of his Economic Rebound Advisory Committee, made up of business leaders across the state. The group will provide recommendations that work to rebuild employee and consumer confidence, provide for business stability and growth, and eventually business promotion and attraction. ”
♦ April 21, 2020 - Idaho Counties Covid-19 Infographics: Shows impact planning variables thanks to the University of Idaho's Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology.
CLICK THIS LINK to view a county-by-county interactive graphic developed by University of Idaho related to COVID-19. The graphic, which was developed by UI’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, has detailed county-level data shown in infographics that are relevant to the coronavirus outbreak. Called Idaho Observatory, it contains resources that community leaders and others can use as they respond to COVID-19.
♦ April 21, 2020 - Farm groups expect H-2A exemption from immigration ban
Farm groups pushed Tuesday to ensure that H-2A workers would be exempt from a temporary immigration ban ordered by President Donald Trump, who cited the ongoing threat posed by the COVID-19 virus. Trump announced the immigration suspension in a tweet Monday night, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!” Representatives of several farm groups told Agri-Pulse on Tuesday that they had been told informally by administration officials that the H-2A visa program for farmworkers would be excluded from the order. White House officials, however, had no immediate comment on the issue Tuesday.
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Tuesday morning calling for a formal exemption for H-2A from the executive order. “While we strongly support efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, last night’s announcement from President Trump has created concerns for many in agriculture. As you know, many producers are dependent upon foreign labor, including the H-2A visa program to meet labor needs,” the letter says. “Thanks to your leadership and hard work in the early days of this crisis, the State Department has prioritized processing of H-2A applications and the Department of Homeland Security has exempted H-2A visa holders as critical essential workers who can cross from Mexico into the U.S.” Explaining the rationale for the immigration suspension, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump "is committed to protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented times.
As President Trump has said, ‘Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African American and Latino workers.’ At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.” Farm groups were already worried about getting a sufficient number of H-2A workers this spring. The administration last week announced a new temporary final rule that allows H-2A petitioners concerned about travel restrictions prohibiting H-2A workers from entering the country to hire H-2A workers already in the country. According to media reports, the administration is also is considering whether it can lower the minimum wage rates — known as the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) — in the H-2A. During a conference call Friday night with reporters on a $19 billion COVID-19 farm aid package, Perdue was asked about the issue. He didn’t answer directly but said H-2A wage rates weren’t part of that relief plan.”
♦ April 17, 2020 - Farm Bureau Applauds $19 Billion in Coronavirus Aid for Farmers
WASHINGTON – April 17, 2020 – The American Farm Bureau applauds the $19 billion economic aid package for America’s farmers and ranchers announced by Secretary Perdue this evening. We understand the package includes $16 billion in much-needed direct payments to producers with another $3 billion to purchase meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. The following statement may be attributed to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall: “We’re grateful to President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for working together to come to the aid of America’s farmers and ranchers. The coronavirus pandemic forced the closing of restaurants, schools and college cafeterias, causing commodity prices to fall off a cliff and serious disruptions to food supply chains. This $16 billion in aid will help keep food on Americans’ tables by providing a lifeline to farm families that were already hit by trade wars and severe weather. “The plan to purchase $3 billion in meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables will help to stabilize markets and keep farms afloat so they can go about the business of feeding America. Farmers and ranchers proudly accept the responsibility of feeding this nation and it’s heartbreaking to be forced to dispose of milk and plow under crops of fresh food at a time when others are going hungry. We also appreciate the additional funding from other sources to help deliver food from farms to food banks. “We look forward to additional details about how the aid will be distributed.””
♦ April 16, 2020 - FDA releases food safety consumer information regarding food packaging/food surplus
As grocery shopping remains a necessity during this pandemic, many people have questions about how to shop safely. We want to reassure consumers that there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This particular coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food.
Although your grocery store may be temporarily out of certain products, there are no nationwide shortages of food. Food production and manufacturing are spread throughout the United States. During this pandemic, consumers are getting most of their food from grocery stores, and many stores have modified their operating hours to allow for more time to restock shelves and clean. In addition, many stores are providing special hours for seniors or other high-risk individuals to shop and are offering pick-up and delivery services. Check the store’s website or call the store to learn more.
♦ April 16, 2020 - Idaho farmer's input sought by IDOC and ISDA before April 22nd
The Idaho Department of Commerce and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture would like your feedback on impacts to your business due to COVID-19. Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the survey and provide data on various topics such as workforce, production and international business. The data will be used for internal purposes only, like setting strategies and helping to identify solutions. Please submit your response by end of day Wednesday, April 22, 2020. We appreciate your contributions during this difficult time and, above all, hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy.
PARTICIPATE IN THE SURVEY HERE
♦ April 14, 2020 - President Donald J. Trump Announces Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups (Agriculture Group)
Today, President Donald J. Trump announced many of the esteemed executives, economists, scholars, and industry leaders who together will form various Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups. These bipartisan groups of American leaders will work together with the White House to chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity. The health and wealth of America is the primary goal, and these groups will produce a more independent, self-sufficient, and resilient Nation.
American Farm Bureau Federation – Zippy Duvall
Sysco Corporation – Kevin Hourican
Tyson Foods, Inc. – Dean Banks
Perdue Farms, Inc. – Randy Day
Cargill, Inc. – David MacLennan
Archer-Daniels-Midland Company – Juan Luciano
Corteva Agriscience – Jim Collins
Tractor Supply Company – Hal Lawton
Seaboard Corporation – Steven Bresky
Grimmway Farms – Barbara Grimm
Mountaire Farms – Ronnie Cameron”
♦ April 13, 2020 - Farm Bureau Bank accepting Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Applications - Waiting to see if Congress will increase maxed-out program.
NEW UPDATE (APRIL 16TH) The Small Business Administration has announced that the Paycheck Protection Program has reached the $349B in funding and therefore is no longer processing applications.
America’s banks are united in appealing to Congress for more funds.
Farm Bureau Bank is focused on helping the businesses and organizations in the Farm Bureau family, and we will continue to accept PPP applications from members in the event that Congress authorizes new Paycheck Protection Program funding.
Please note that while we will collect applications for potential processing in the future, we will not be able to submit any to the SBA at this time. We will keep you updated should additional funding be approved. As you are aware, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were recently passed to provide a stimulus to the US economy. Included in the act is a component for small to medium-sized businesses disrupted by COVID-19, known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides relief and stimulus to eligible businesses including farmers and ranchers, nonprofit organizations, and independent contractors. Financial institutions will provide federally backed, potentially forgivable loans to eligible entities at a 1% rate for two years with a deferred initial payment. Farm Bureau Bank has been working expeditiously with the Small Business Administration (SBA), to launch the Paycheck Protection Program; we are pleased to share that we are now accepting applications. Unlike most financial institutions we are NOT limiting applications to our existing customers and will be accepting applications from Farm Bureau members. As I’m sure you have heard, this program is very popular, which is creating backlogs at many financial institutions and some banks, like Wells Fargo, are no longer accepting applications. For more details, CLICK HERE
We know that many Farm Bureau members are financially impacted by COVID-19 related events and the Farm Bureau Bank is here to help.
♦ April 13, 2020 - USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only
USDA is open for business. Our team is continuing to provide the best customer service we can while also prioritizing the health of our employees, the health of our customers, and the health of our partners. USDA’s Service Centers are open in Idaho by phone appointment only. While our program delivery staff will continue to come into to the office, they will be working with our customers by phone, by email, and using other online tools whenever possible. To learn more about USDA programs and the Department’s response to the Coronavirus visit farmers.gov/coronavirus or www.rd.usda.gov/coronavirus. To locate your local Service Center, visit farmers.gov/service-locator. ”
♦ April 10, 2020 - IFBF Friday Lunch Covid 19 Forum
The Idaho Farm Bureau provided a lunch hour forum on April 10, 2020. Presenters representing the ISDA, USDA, financial lenders, H-2A, and Farm Bureau discussed COVID-19 ag issues and updates.
• (5:53) How do I apply for a PPP loan? Or, is a PPP loan right for my farm or ranch? Dan Hammon, Senior VP Regional Credit Officer, D L Evans Bank
• (22:03) What is the latest on the H-2A, visa processing issue? What other challenges exist? Joel Anderson, Executive Director, Snake River Farmer’s Association
• (37:30) How is ISDA operating during the shutdown? State perspective on ag. issues. Celia Gould, Director, Idaho State Dept. of Ag.
• (43:58) What FSA programs/resources are available? Tom Dayley, State Director, Farm Service Agency, USDA
• (49:30) What is Farm Bureau doing? Bryan Searle, President, IFBF
♦ April 9, 2020 - Idaho Farm Bureau President, Bryan Searle, gives update on national calls surrounding Covid-19 agricultural issues.
In this 9-minutes interview, President Bryan Searle gives up-to-date information of national agencies dealings with the struggles and uncertainties facing agriculture today.
♦ April 9, 2020 - Idaho Tax Commission extends 1st quarter deadline for Idaho's fuel tax licensing (IFTL) return.
The Tax Commission is extending the due date for the 1st Quarter IFTA return. The original due date is April 30, 2020. The extended due date is June 1, 2020. Any IFTA licensee reporting and paying by the extended due date will not pay interest for any jurisdiction or penalty for late filing.”
♦ April 7, 2020 - UDSA gives answers questions on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
• On March 27th, Congress passed the Corona Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This package appropriated $349 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP is a guaranteed loan program administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The purpose of the program is to support small businesses and help support their payroll during the coronavirus situation.
Q: Are agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers eligible for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)? A: Agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers with 500 or fewer employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States are eligible. Farms are eligible if: (i) the farm has 500 or less employees, OR (ii) it fit within the revenue-based sized standard, which is an average annual receipts of $1M. Additionally, farms can qualify for PPP if it meets SBA’s “alternative size standard.” The “alternative size standard” is currently: (1) a maximum net worth of the business not more than $15 million, AND (2) the average net income Federal income taxes of the business for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application be not more than $5 million.
Q: Are agricultural, and other forms of cooperatives eligible for PPP? A: As long as other eligibility requirements are met, small agricultural cooperatives may receive PPP loans. Other forms of cooperatives may be eligible provided they comply with all other Loan Program Requirements (as defined in 13 CFR 120.10).
Q: Do H-2A or H-2B workers on my payroll count towards my eligibility and total possible loan amount? A: Only employees with a principal place of residence in the U.S. count toward eligibility and calculation of the PPP loan amount.
Q: How do sole proprietor farmers provide accurate documentation regarding payroll, when they may not take a traditional salary? A: SBA requires sole proprietors, independent contractors, and other eligible self-employed individuals to provide documentation to its lender that the business was in operation as of February 15, 2020. This documentation may include payroll processor records, payroll tax filings, or Form 1099-MISC, or income and expenses from a sole proprietorship. For borrowers that do not have any such documentation, the borrower must provide other supporting documentation to its lender, such as bank records, sufficient to demonstrate the qualifying payroll amount. Documentation options for payroll tax filings include the following: IRS Form 941 (quarterly wages); IRS Form 944 (calendar year wages); State income, payroll and unemployment insurance filings; QuickBooks; bank repository accounts; and/or internally generated profit and loss statements. However: o Nonprofit organizations must include IRS Form 990; o Sole proprietors must include IRS Form 1040 Schedule C; o Any entity that filed IRS Form 1099-MISC must include this form; o Seasonal employers must document the period beginning February 15, 2019 through June 30, 2019”
♦ April 6, 2020 - USDA Statement on the Confirmation of COVID-19 in New York animal
WASHINGTON D.C. - The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories has confirmed SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) in one tiger at a zoo in New York. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19. Samples from this tiger were taken and tested after several lions and tigers at the zoo showed symptoms of respiratory illness. Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27. All of these large cats are expected to recover. There is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the zoo are showing symptoms. USDA and CDC are monitoring the situation and working to support the state and local health departments and state animal health officials.
State animal and public health officials will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals, either at this zoo or in other areas, should be tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. USDA will notify the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of this finding. Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction. ” CLICK HERE for more questions and answers relating to animal transmission.
♦ April 3, 2020 - Coronavirus Impact Ripples Across Farm Country
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2020 – From dairy farmers with nowhere to send their milk and cattle ranchers reeling from plummeting beef prices, the impact of the coronavirus is rippling through farm country. Corn, cotton and soybean futures have tumbled, ethanol plants have been idled, and some fruit and vegetable farmers are finding their best option is leaving produce in the field. Price forecasts for most agricultural products are bleak. In the past month, dairy prices have dropped 26-36%, corn futures have dropped by 14%, soybean futures are down 8% and cotton futures have plummeted 31%. Hog futures are down by 31%. A surge in demand for beef emptied grocery store meat aisles, but there is no lack of supply. Despite a rise in retail prices in some areas, the prices paid to cattle ranchers have fallen 25%. Dairy producers were optimistic at the start of 2020 that it would be a turnaround year, with milk prices on the rise and feed costs holding steady. But hopes were dashed when the coronavirus quickly and dramatically impacted demand, disrupted supply chains and led to the 26-36% drop in prices.
Schools, restaurants and universities that were among the main purchasers of milk and milk products were suddenly shuttered, leaving dairy farmers with far more milk than plants are capable of processing. The sometimes-empty supermarket milk coolers reflect supply chain adaptation challenges, not lack of supply. Experts do not expect retail demand for dairy to make up for lost food service and restaurant demand. “Farmers and ranchers are determined to deliver on their commitment to provide a safe and abundant food supply, but make no mistake, they are facing make-or-break struggles, like many Americans,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “After years of a down farm economy and damaging severe weather, the COVID-19 ripple effects are forcing farmers and ranchers to face heartbreaking financial realities. Without question, the disaster aid provided in the CARES Act is a lifeline that will help many farmers hold on. We don’t know how many for how long, but we’re grateful.” The CARES Act provides $9.5 billion to the Agriculture Secretary for financial support to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus and $14 billion for the Commodity Credit Corporation. Direct food- and agriculture-related provisions in the CARES Act, including the support for USDA and the CCC and additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, account for only .02% of the total aid provided in the bill. USDA has not yet announced how it will distribute the aid. Meanwhile farmers reliant on direct consumer sales, such as farmers’ markets and u-pick farms, are also facing dramatic losses.
Often highly perishable, a loss of market at peak harvest has led some to cut their losses by leaving fruits and vegetables in the fields. Abiding by travel restrictions, people are driving far less, pushing down demand for both oil and ethanol made from corn. A 35% drop in ethanol prices caused some plants to stop production, further depressing corn prices. The sudden change also cut off the supply of dried distillers grains — a byproduct of ethanol production and source of high-protein feed — for livestock producers, who are left scrambling to find a replacement. While the impact to agriculture has been acute and immediate on many fronts, there is more to come if farmers and ranchers are forced to downsize or stop farming and ranching altogether. “There are millions of people involved in producing America’s food supply. Fewer farms mean fewer farm workers, truck drivers, processors and manufacturers and potentially higher food prices – not today, maybe not even this year, but farmers won’t be the only ones affected by the long-term agricultural impacts of the coronavirus pandemic if prices continue to drop and markets aren’t restored,” Duvall explained. “We’re all in this together. No one is more mindful of that than farmers and ranchers who keep planting, harvesting and finding new and creative ways to ensure their products reach America’s dinner tables.” ”
♦ April 1, 2020 - Most Recently Asked Covid 19 Ag Labor Questions - U.S. Department of Labor
1. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, can I permit workers to perform other agricultural labor or services that were not initially disclosed in the H-2A job order as a temporary measure to promote social distancing and slow the spread of the virus within my community? The Department understands that, while responding to the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural employers are making every effort to maintain the nation’s food supply and meet their contractual obligations to foreign and domestic workers. Based on these unique circumstances, and pursuant to the provisions below, an employer may permit H-2A workers and domestic workers employed in corresponding employment to perform limited duties that are not specifically listed in the job order, but only as necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures, and provided that the additional duties: (1) constitute agricultural labor or services, as defined at 20 CFR 655.103(c); and (2) are performed at worksite locations covering the same area of intended employment certified by the Department. Consistent with the employer’s recordkeeping requirements at 20 CFR 655.122(j), the employer must retain records showing the nature and amount of the work performed, including any other agricultural work performed in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The employer must continue to pay H-2A workers and workers in corresponding employment the highest applicable wage rate in effect at the time the work is performed and must offer U.S. workers no less than the same benefits, wages, and working conditions the employer will offer or provide to H-2A workers. 2
2. My workers may need to be quarantined and not able to perform work for several continuous weeks in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Do I need to invoke contract impossibility? Given the unforeseen and disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the employers may be afforded some degree of flexibility before requesting a determination of contract impossibility from the Department under 20 CFR 655.122(o) (i.e., “for reasons beyond the control of the employer … that makes the fulfillment of the contract impossible”). Accordingly, employers who must temporarily suspend agricultural operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether in whole or part, may do so for a period of up to 21 calendar days without advance CO approval. Consistent with the recordkeeping requirements at 20 CFR 655.122(j), the employer retains records for each worker of the number of hours of work offered each day, the number of hours actually worked, and, if applicable, the reason(s) why the number of hours worked is less than the number of hours offered. In order for the Department to take into account the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the employer’s business while still ensuring the three-fourths guarantee protection for workers, employers may note for each worker the specific time period in which fewer hours or no work was offered and the reason(s) why (e.g., business closure or worker quarantine due to COVID-19 pandemic).
3. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, my workers may not be permitted to perform work at some worksites listed on my certified Application for Temporary Employment Certification and job order. However, there are other worksites within the certified area of intended employment where work can be performed. Can I place workers at other worksites not specifically listed in the certified Application for Temporary Employment Certification but are still within the same area of intended employment? The Department understands that, while responding to the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural employers are making every effort to maintain the nation’s food supply and meet their contractual obligations to foreign and domestic workers. Based on these unique circumstances, and pursuant to the provisions below, an employer may place H-2A workers and domestic workers employed in corresponding employment at other worksite(s) that are not specifically listed in the certified H-2A application and job order, but only as necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures, and provided that: the worksite(s) are located in the certified area(s) of intended employment and workers will perform only agricultural labor or services listed on their H-2A job orders at those worksite(s) (or as provided in the separate FAQ addressing the performance of other agricultural labor or services that were not initially disclosed in the H-2A job order as a temporary measure to promote social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19). The employer should provide an amended work contract to any workers who will be performing work at another worksite. 3 The Department must be assured that essential worker protections (e.g., safe and compliant housing and daily transportation, as well as meals) will be provided to all workers performing duties at the worksites not covered by the certified H-2A application and job order. For worksites that are outside of the area of intended employment on the certified application, and where the COVID-19 pandemic may constitute good and substantial cause, the employer must file a new H-2A application and job order, but should request emergency processing under 20 CFR 655.134. Important Reminders: • An employer that obtained temporary labor certification as a fixed-site employer may place workers only at other worksite(s) the employer owns or operates. • An employer must provide workers with a copy of any approved extensions or modifications to the work contract, as soon as practicable.
4. I’m concerned that some or all of my workers will not arrive on my certified start date of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures. Should I request an amendment to my certified start date or file a new H-2A Application for Temporary Labor Certification with a later start date for those workers whose arrival will be delayed? If not, what do I need to do? The Department recognizes that employers are making every effort to ensure that all workers arrive in time to commence work on the start date listed on the H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification or as soon as possible thereafter, consistent with the health and safety parameters related to the COVID-19 pandemic response. The Department also understands that, while responding to the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural employers are making every effort to maintain the nation’s food supply and meet their contractual obligations to foreign and domestic workers. Based on these unique circumstances, and pursuant to the provisions below, employers will not be required to file a new H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification with a later start date for workers whose arrival is delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or to request amendment of the start date on their certified application provided they comply with the following conditions: An employer experiencing temporary delays in the arrival of H-2A workers must notify the State Workforce Agency (SWA) to which it submitted the job order and the Chicago National Processing Center (NPC) that, due to the delayed arrival of H-2A workers based on the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures, the employer’s positive recruitment period is extended. See 20 CFR 655.158. Under these circumstances, the SWA and Chicago NPC will continue to recruit for U.S. workers and satisfy as much of the employer’s need as close to the employer’s actual start date of need as possible. 4 In some cases, however, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and any delayed worker arrival(s) may change the employer’s need for labor to such an extent that a new H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification is required for the resulting job opportunity. For example, a new H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification may be necessary if: the duties the employer needs workers to perform have substantially changed as a result of the unforeseen circumstances; the timing of the need for labor has shifted such that a new labor market test is necessary; or if the employer is unable to reasonably anticipate when labor will be needed.
5. My H-2A Application for Temporary Labor Certification is pending with the Chicago NPC. I’m concerned that some or all of my workers will not arrive on the start date I listed on my application due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures. Should I request an amendment to my start date before certification? The Department recognizes that employers are making every effort to ensure that all workers arrive in time to commence work on the start date listed on the H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification or as soon as possible thereafter, consistent with the health and safety parameters related to the COVID-19 pandemic response. The Department also understands that, while responding to the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural employers are making every effort to maintain the nation’s food supply and meet their contractual obligations to foreign and domestic workers. Based on these unique circumstances, and pursuant to the provisions below, an employer may request a minor amendment to the start date listed on its H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification, consistent with 20 CFR 655.145(b). For example, an employer’s request to amend the period of need should include a statement and any other documentation (e.g., state/local weather reports, crop yield data) demonstrating how the need for the change in the period of employment could not have been foreseen, and a description of how the crops or commodities will be in jeopardy if approval is not granted. Although the general impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures may be more focused on the health and movement of people and not crop conditions, the employer’s H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification identified the first date of need on which it required workers to begin performing agricultural labor or services. In most cases, an employer’s need for the agricultural labor or services work to begin on the date specified in its H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification will remain unchanged and the employer will need as many of the workers to begin work on the listed start date. In such cases, a start date amendment would not be appropriate. 5 In some cases, however, an employer anticipating widespread delays in workers arriving due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and related measure, may sufficiently demonstrate to the Chicago NPC that a minor delay will increase the likelihood of more workers arriving to begin work together (e.g., as a crew,) and perform large-scale planting. Where a minor amendment to the start date could increase the likelihood of more workers arriving together on the later start date (e.g., as the result of changes to travel restrictions or availability of other domestic workers based on an extended labor market recruitment), a start date amendment may be appropriate. To the extent an employer anticipates more than a minor start date delay or is unsure whether or when work will begin, an amendment to the start date would not be appropriate. In those circumstances, once a new start date is certain, the employer may file a new H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification. Important Reminder: If the employer requests a delay in the expected start date of work, please remember to include, in the written notification to the Chicago NPC, a statement indicating whether any U.S. workers have already departed for the place of work and, if so, an assurance that all workers who are already traveling will be provided housing and meals, without cost to the workers, until work begins.
6. I am an employer with a pending H-2A application and job order, and the housing I intend to provide to workers requires an inspection from the State Workforce Agency (SWA). What should I do in the event that the SWA temporarily closes its public offices or suspends operations due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic? Employers should consult the appropriate state government website and/or office for the latest information concerning the SWA’s operating status. Although some states may decide to temporarily close physical offices to the general public due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, SWAs in those states may have the capability to continue to perform housing inspections on a case-by-case or emergency basis, to leverage technologies to conduct inspections remotely under specific conditions, or to implement other alternative methods for ensuring housing meets applicable standards. The Department encourages employers to proactively consult their SWAs to obtain information on available procedures to complete their housing inspections. In the event that the SWA provides notification that it has or will fully suspend all operations due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should be aware that this may prevent or significantly delay the issuance of a final determination on their H-2A applications and job orders. A certification that housing meets applicable safety and health standards is a prerequisite for the Certifying Officer to grant temporary labor certification. 6
7. I am an employer operating as an H-2A Labor Contractor (H-2ALC). Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I may not be able to provide the OFLC Chicago NPC an original surety bond associated with my H-2A application 30 days before the start date of work, as required by the Department’s regulations. Can the Chicago NPC grant temporary labor certification based on its review of a scanned copy of the original surety bond in this unique circumstance? Yes. Under 20 CFR 655.132(b)(3), an H-2ALC must include, with its H-2A application, the original surety bond serving as proof of its ability to discharge financial obligations under the H-2A program. Under normal circumstances, an employer may scan and upload a copy of the surety bond in the Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG) at the time of filing the H-2A application electronically, and send the original surety bond to the Chicago NPC for receipt at least 30 days before the employer’s start date of work. Consistent with the Frequently Asked Questions, Round 1, issued on March 20, 2020, OFLC is making accommodations related to deadlines for employers and their authorized attorneys or agents to respond to the applicable OFLC NPC regarding the processing of applications for labor certification due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For employers operating as H-2ALCs and impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, if the deadline to submit an original surety bond falls within the period from March 13, 2020 through May 12, 2020 (i.e., 30 days before the start date of work), the Chicago NPC will review the scanned copy of the original surety bond uploaded in FLAG and, provided that the employer will submit the original surety bond by May 12, 2020, the Chicago NPC may grant temporary labor certification.
8. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I may not be able to pay the fees associated with my H-2A labor certification within 30 days after the date certification was granted. Will OFLC make accommodations for the delayed payment of H-2A labor certification fees? Yes. Consistent with the Frequently Asked Questions, Round 1, issued on March 20, 2020, OFLC is making accommodations related to deadlines for employers and their authorized attorneys or agents to respond to the applicable OFLC NPC regarding the processing of applications for labor certification due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, for certifications issued from March 13, 2020 through May 12, 2020, the employer’s H-2A labor certification fee will be considered timely if received by the Chicago NPC no later than June 11, 2020. Important Reminder: An employer who is issued an H-2A labor certification, but requests post-certification withdrawal of that H-2A labor certification and/or decides not to proceed with the filing of a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, must still pay the required labor certification fee in a timely manner. Failure to do so can result in debarment from the H-2A program, in accordance with 20 CFR 655.182. ”
♦ March 28, 2020 - What work is deemed essential during Covid 19? Updated Homeland Security "Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce" list (Food and Agriculture section).
• Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retail (including unattended and vending) that sells human food, animal/pet food and pet supply, and beverage products, including retail customer support service and information technology support staff necessary for online orders, pickup and delivery. • Restaurant carry-out and quick serve food operations, including dark kitchen and food prep centers, and carryout and delivery food employees. • Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees—to include those employed in food ingredient production and processing facilities; livestock, poultry, seafood slaughter facilities; pet and animal feed processing facilities; human food facilities producing by-products for animal food; beverage production facilities; and the production of food packaging. • Farmers, farm workers, and agribusiness support services to include those employed in auction and sales: grain and oilseed handling, processing and distribution; animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supplydomestically and for export. • Farmers, farm workers, support service workers, and their supplier employees to include those engaged in producing and harvesting field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; biodiesel and renewable diesel facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs. • Employees and firms supporting the distribution of food, feed, and beverage and ingredients used in these products, including warehouse workers, vendor- managed inventory controllers and blockchainmanagers. • Workers supporting the sanitation and pest control of all food manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail. • Employees in cafeterias used to feed employees, particularly employee populations sheltered against COVID-19. • Workers in animal diagnostic and food testing laboratories in private industries and in institutions of higher • Government, private, and non-governmental organizations’ workers essential for food assistanceprograms (including school lunch programs) and governmentpayments. • Employees of companies engaged in the production, storage, transport, and distribution of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids. • Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health (including those involved in supporting emergency veterinary or livestock services); raising of animals for food; animal production operations; livestock markets; slaughter and packing plants, manufacturers, renderers, and associated regulatory and government workforce. • Transportation supporting animal agricultural industries, including movement of animal medical and reproductive supplies and materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, live animals, animal by-products, and deceased animals for disposal. • Workers who support sawmills and the manufacture and distribution of fiber and forest products, including, but not limited to timber, paper, and other wood andfiberproducts. • Employees engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment and other infrastructure necessary for agricultural production and distribution..”
♦ March 26, 2020 - What’s in the CARES Act for Food and Agriculture?
CLICK HERE to read full article with graphs. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provides the financial resources immediately necessary to ensure that children and low-income families continue to have access to healthy and affordable food. Additionally, the aid to farmers in this package, including funding for the CCC and the Office of the Secretary, will allow USDA to begin crafting an appropriate relief program for agriculture, including but not limited to support for specialty crop producers, producers supplying farmers’ markets, dairy farmers, and ranchers raising feeder and fed cattle. Given the sharp downturn in ethanol markets and downstream impact on corn prices across the Midwest, an aid package for these agribusinesses may also be warranted. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have a long tail economically, and recovery will take time. The full extent of the economic damage to U.S. farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and the many others involved in food production is unknown. Moreover, the ability for U.S. agricultural exports to recover and potentially meet the Phase 1 commitments is also unknown. If more resources ultimately prove necessary, our lawmakers and the administration have demonstrated their ability to make those resources available. ”
♦ March 26, 2020 - A State Department document said the expedited H-2A approval process would be good only for this calendar year.
Embassies and consulates in Mexico, where regular visa processing services were recently suspended, issued 88.2% of all H-2A visas and 74.1% of all H-2B visas in fiscal 2019. The action will "ease the flow of guest workers at a time when our farmers are redoubling their efforts to provide our nation with safe, healthy, abundant and affordable food,” said Dave Puglia, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association. Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said the Trump administration’s action “ provides some certainty to US farmers and ranchers that they will be able to source the workforce necessary to secure America's food supply. This leadership also provides some certainty to US farmers and ranchers that they will be able to source the workforce necessary to secure America's food supply.”
The State Department had said earlier that some returning H-2A workers would qualify for an interview waiver, but farm groups were still concerned that the number of H-2A approvals would be lower this year. Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, also praised the new policy. “We are grateful for the administration’s recognition of our part in keeping food moving from farm to table. We will continue to monitor the implementation and application of these revised regulations and ensure that the fresh fruit and vegetable industry has access to the workers that keep our food economy going during these uncertain times," he said. ”
♦ March 26, 2020 - Agriculture Considered Critical Infrastructure - Idaho Farm Bureau
Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21) designates the food and agriculture sector as a critical infrastructure sector whose assets, systems, and networks are considered so vital that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health, or safety.
The President’s Coronavirus Guidance published on March 16, 2020 (link) instructs employees of Critical Infrastructure Industries, such as the food and agriculture sector, to maintain normal work patterns during the global coronavirus outbreak.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) published guidance on March 19, 2020 (link) identifying food and agriculture employees as critical infrastructure workers essential to the continued viability of this sector who should maintain normal work patterns pursuant to the President’s Coronavirus Guidance.
Accordingly, it is appropriate in light of the President’s Coronavirus Guidance to allow this critical infrastructure sector employee to proceed in the federal interests of protecting the nation’s food supply chain, notwithstanding local restrictions such as curfews, shelter-in-place orders, and other similar restrictions on travel. ”
♦ March 25, 2020 - AFBF Press Release - Coronavirus Aid Package Critical for Farmers
The coronavirus aid package negotiated by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and agreed to by Senate leaders and the White House will help ensure farmers and ranchers are able to continue feeding America in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The following statement may be attributed to American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall: “Thanks to Leader McConnell and all the senators who diligently fought for farmers and ranchers to ensure they have our backs in the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. The aid to farmers in this package, including funding for the CCC and the Office of the Secretary, will allow USDA to begin crafting an appropriate relief program for agriculture. “America’s farmers and ranchers face enormous volatility as markets and supply chains rapidly react to changes, but I’ll say again that farmers and ranchers will not let Americans down. All members of Congress must understand that farmers have almost no control over the prices of the goods we produce, so fulfilling our commitment to America requires a team effort. “We urge swift passage and will continue working with Congress and the Administration to ensure there are sufficient resources to assist farmers, ranchers, rural communities and those in need in these very trying times.”
Background: COVID-19 impact on agriculture includes a rapid and unanticipated decline in commodity prices, the likely closure of ethanol plants, the dramatic decline in full-service restaurant and school meal demand, and the reduction in direct-to-consumer sales. The agreement reportedly includes a $14 billion increase in USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation, consistent with a long history of the CCC being tapped to responsibly support agriculture in times of crisis, and $9.5 billion to assist specialty crop producers, direct retail farmers and livestock operators. Forty-eight agriculture groups joined Farm Bureau in calling on Congress to expand USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation. Read the letter here.”
♦ March 25, 2020 - Gov. Little issues statewide stay-at home order, signs 'extreme emergency declaration'
Idaho Gov. Brad Little has issued a stay-at-home order for all of Idaho, requiring everyone in the state to self-isolate at home if possible. The order applies to all citizens, not just those who are sick. It's effective immediately and will be in effect for 21 days. Healthcare workers, public safety workers, and other "essential" workers may still go to work, and people will be allowed to leave their homes to obtain or provide essential services. Little also ordered the closure of all dine-in restaurants in the state, although drive-through and delivery will still be allowed. "Non-essential" businesses like gyms, bars, salons and convention centers must closed. The announcement came after health officials confirmed community spread of coronavirus in at least two counties.”
♦ March 24, 2020 - Department of Transportation makes changes to driver license expiration and CDL medical examination requirements
The President has declared a national emergency under 42 U.S.C. § 5191(b) related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This Notice is in response to COVID-19 outbreaks and their effects on people and the immediate risk they present to public health, safety, and welfare in the fifty States and the District of Columbia. Many States are experiencing greater than normal employee absences or have closed offices of their State Driver Licensing Agencies in response to the guidance from the U.S. Center for Disease Control to use social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Because of these actions, many commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are unable to renew their driver’s license and are unable to provide medical certificates to their State Driver Licensing Agencies. In addition, many medical providers nationwide have canceled regularly scheduled appointments to dedicate resources to the COVID-19 response or for related reasons, and drivers are unable to obtain appointments for physical examinations with medical examiners to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).
Given the national emergency, there is a public need for immediate transportation of essential supplies, equipment, and persons, which requires an adequate and sustained supply of CMV drivers including Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) holders, Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders, and non-CDL commercial drivers. Ensuring that drivers are available to operate CMVs during the national emergency declaration is critical to continued operation of the transportation and energy supply networks and the safety and economic stability of our Nation. This Notice of Enforcement Policy, effective from March 24, 2020 to June 30, 2020, provides needed relief from specified FMCSRs for CLP holders, CDL holders, and non-CDL drivers and motor carriers using those drivers. This Notice of Enforcement Policy applies to all CLP holders, CDL holders, and non-CDL drivers whose license was issued for less than the maximum period established by 49 CFR 383.25 and 383.73 and was valid on February 29, 2020 and expired on or after March 1, 2020. FMCSA will exercise its enforcement discretion to not take enforcement action for the following:
1. 49 CFR 383.23(a)(2) – a CLP or CDL holder operating a CMV with an expired license, but only if the CLP or CDL was valid on February 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020.
2. 49 CFR 383.37(a) – a motor carrier that allows a CLP or CDL driver to operate a CMV during a period in which the driver does not have a current CLP or CDL, but only if the CLP or CDL was valid on February 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020. 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20590
3. 49 CFR 391.11(b)(5) – a CMV driver (i.e., CLP, CDL, or non-CDL license holder) or motor carrier that allows a CMV driver to operate a CMV during a period in which the driver’s operator license has expired, but only if the driver’s license was valid on February 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020, and the driver is otherwise qualified to drive under 391.11.
4. 49 CFR 391.45(b) – a CMV driver or motor carrier that allows a CMV driver to operate a CMV during a period in which the driver does not have the current medical certificate as required by 49 CFR 391.45(b), but only if the driver has evidence of a medical certification that was valid on February 29, 2020 and expired on or after March 1, 2020.
All CLP and CDL drivers are required to comply with all other applicable obligations under the FMCSRs and other applicable laws. This Notice creates no individual rights of action and establishes no precedent for future determinations. This Notice is effective from March 24, 2020, through June 30, 2020.”
♦ March 24, 2020 - Farm Credit Releases Message
We write today to provide an update on Farm Credit’s efforts to serve farmers, ranchers and rural communities during the current Covid-19 situation. Farm Credit institutions remain open and continue making loans and serving our customer-owners. Farm Credit institutions also remain financially strong and have the resources necessary to ensure credit continues to flow during this crisis. Like other businesses, Farm Credit is strongly committed to the health and safety of our customers, employees and directors. We are taking necessary precautions to limit personal contact whenever possible, including Farm Credit institution employees working remotely whenever possible and postponing public meetings and travel. Farm Credit institutions have triggered their business continuity plans and are reporting their actions under those plans to our regulator, the Farm Credit Administration.
Technology helps us serve customers without direct personal contact whenever possible as we close some branches to the public and sharply limit access to other branches. At the same time, we are actively communicating with our customers and offering a wide range of options to continue making loans and providing essential services without creating unnecessary person-to-person contact. Importantly, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance designating agriculture and financial services as critical sectors where certain employees should continue to work. We are relying on the DHS guidance to ensure that Farm Credit’s critical functions continue, and farmers and rural communities are served even when state and local governments restrict opening hours and/or travel.
As you know, spring is an especially intense time in Farm Credit as farmers finalize planting plans and secure operating credit. Our agricultural cooperative customers are busy stocking inventory to support farm operations and need readily available credit to ensure farmers have access to the supplies they need. Our agricultural product processing customers are dealing with coronavirus while keeping their doors open and the food supply chain operating. Our rural telecommunications customers are working to meet increased demand for broadband as more families work remotely and have children attending classes online. Farm Credit continues to fulfill its mission to support rural communities and agriculture.
We are doing everything we can to minimize the disruption to our customers and provide them the credit they need to produce the food and fiber that families across the country and around the world need. We would be pleased to provide additional information about local Farm Credit efforts to serve customers in your area. For more information, please contact me or Brittany Jablonsky (email@example.com). Thank you for all you and your colleagues in Congress are doing to support rural communities and agriculture as we deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Sincerely, Todd Todd Van Hoose”
♦ March 23, 2020 - ISDA Committed to Idaho’s Critical Infrastructure During COVID-19 Emergency
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) is committed to ensuring that vital services for Idaho agriculture and food production are uninterrupted during the state’s COVID-19 emergency. Even with daily developments, one thing remains clear: Idaho’s food system is critical infrastructure. In collaboration with Governor Brad Little, the ISDA will continue to serve the state’s agriculture and food sectors. “The ISDA always strives to ensure confidence in food products and the marketplace,” said Celia Gould, ISDA Director.
“In response to COVID-19 transmission prevention, we have implemented measures that help account for the health of staff while still serving customers.” Health and safety are always priorities in Idaho’s food system. Most people working in agriculture do not have the ability to telecommute, and the State of Idaho recognizes that food production and processing are essential to all Idahoans. The ISDA urges agribusinesses to implement effective health measures, including guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Under normal circumstances, the ISDA would be celebrating National Ag Day on March 24,” said Gould.
“Perhaps the most poignant way to celebrate this year is with heartfelt recognition and thanks. Because farmers, ranchers, farm laborers, inspectors, processors, truckers, grocery store workers and more are on the job, Idahoans can be confident that our food system will remain viable. These producers and workers have our appreciation now and every day.” Additional information about the ISDA’s response to COVID-19 is available on the agency’s website, agri.idaho.gov. The State of Idaho’s COVID-19 website, https://coronavirus.idaho.gov/, has regular updates and additional guidance. Agribusinesses and the public can reach the ISDA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (208) 332-8500.”
♦ March 23, 2020 - Idaho small businesses impacted by coronavirus can now access federal disaster loans
Idaho small businesses impacted by coronavirus can now access federal disaster loans Boise, Idaho – Following Governor Brad Little’s request, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced Friday it is now offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Idaho small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). “Small business is the backbone of our economy, and that’s why I requested additional resources for Idaho’s small businesses during this time of hardship and uncertainty,” Governor Brad Little said.
Small businesses, private non-profit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted as a direct result of coronavirus since Jan. 31, 2020, may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses that could have been met if the disaster had not occurred. The loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid because of the disaster’s impact. Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of coronavirus. The interest rate is 3.75-percent for small businesses. The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75-percent. The SBA offers loans with long-term repayments up to a maximum of 30 years. The deadline to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan is Dec. 21, 2020. For more information, visit https://commerce.idaho.gov/covid-19/.”
♦ March 21, 2020 - American Farm Bureau has provided leaders in the House and Senate a list of Covid-19 recommendations to help farmers and ranchers
American Farm Bureau has provided leaders in the House and Senate a list of recommendations for assisting farmers and ranchers during the national emergency to address the coronavirus outbreak. Over the past week, AFBF has worked closely with state Farm Bureaus in identifying immediate challenges facing farmers and ranchers due to the coronavirus outbreak. Based on input from state Farm Bureaus, AFBF has compiled a list of issues and recommended Federal responses and has shared these with leaders in the House and Senate. A copy of AFBF’s letters and the recommendations are attached. Policy Recommendations to Assist Agricultural Producers
1. Agricultural labor a. Access While containment of COVID-19 is a national emergency, providing food to over 300 million Americans is no less critical. The H-2A program provides over a quarter-million workers to sustain the U.S. agricultural sector. H-2A workers must be available to the agricultural sector, either by designating this visa category as emergency or critical or through some other mechanism. Additionally, border states such as Arizona are critically dependent on commuter workers who reside in Mexico but work in the U.S. We must assure that these workers remain available. b. Cash flow Many farms are facing do-or-die situations. Every effort should be made to provide cost flexibility to farming operations during this emergency. Some of this can be accomplished through tax relief but temporary suspension of regulatory requirements can also be helpful. At a minimum, the DOL should suspend expensive H-2A requirements (the adverse effect wage rate, the ¾ guarantee, and potentially others) that impose costs on farmers that they cannot sustain during this emergency. c. Continuity and flexibility The Federal government should automatically extend the length of H-2A visas; allow H-2A users to share workers among farms; provide interim temporary legal status to current farm workers (such as dairy workers) and their families; halt all deportations of agricultural workers; and provide dairy workers special means of assuring that they have work permits. Additionally, the program should consider temporarily relaxing other requirements (such as housing) that may temporarily be affected by requirements of public health policies (such as social distancing).
2. Authority for USDA to function as a Federal backstop Many farmers will be extremely challenged to meet cash needs. The Federal government can and must play a critical role in this effort. a. Commodity Credit Corporation i. Scope of authority Congress must assure that the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) has ample authority to devise and implement any program that is designed to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers during this emergency. ii. Funding authority Congress must assure that the CCC has ample budget authority to meet the financial needs of growers. b. FSA Similar to efforts undertaken previously when agricultural producers faced unique challenges, FSA should have the authority to provide no- or low-interest loans to producers, particularly livestock producers, during this emergency. The deadline to enroll in Agricultural Risk Coverage, Price Loss Coverage and Dairy Margin Coverage recently closed. Given the rapid decline in market prices sign-up should be reopened for producers enrolled or seeking to enroll in these programs. In addition, USDA should explore the ability to make advanced payments on ARC or PLC before the expiration of the crop year. c. AMS The decline in restaurant and school demand for food and dairy products may well result in lower demand and as a consequence processing capacity at some food production facilities. In special circumstances the Federal government should be actively engaged and work with companies to assure that farmers continue to have markets for their products, including but not limited to Section 32 food purchase and distribution programs. d. We support provisions in the Senate legislation that allows the Federal government to actively engage and work with companies to assure that farmers continue to have markets for their products. e. Emergency Relief. To assist the agriculture sector in the 1980’s, USDA was authorized under emergency economic provisions to provide lending assistance to producers. This authority should be renewed so that USDA has the broadest possible latitude in providing a safety net to the agriculture sector.
3. International/border issues a. The United States should work aggressively with our trading partners to assure that critical trade relations remain intact to the greatest extent possible. Specifically: i. Livestock trade with Canada and Mexico must be maintained. ii. Chemicals and other farm inputs from foreign nations should continue to flow so that farmers do not lose these critical components of agriculture production. This is affecting availability of fertilizer and other commodities.
4. Critical Resources a. In order to assure continued agricultural production with a minimum of disruption, agricultural retail suppliers should be regarded as essential components of the food system so that farmers can retain access to seed, fertilizer, chemical inputs and other essential components of farm production. In addition, all aspects of agricultural production (including nursery, sod and greenhouse operations and timber) should be designated as essential parts of agriculture. b. The understandable commitment to prioritize PPE equipment for health care workers could result in shortages for the food processing industry. We support efforts to maximize production of PPE equipment to make sure it remains available to critical processing jobs in the food sector.
5. Rural Broadband The national effort to contain the virus by social distancing has underscored the critical need of rural broadband infrastructure. Funding for broadband construction in rural communities must be given a high priority.
6. Financial Assistance a. Credit Immediately provide readily accessible, unsecured credit to businesses of all sizes to ensure they have the cash to pay their workers, rent, and other costs during this crisis. b. Cash flow Suspend the filing of business returns and the payment of all business taxes to the federal government for the duration of the pandemic c. Tax certainty and relief Amend the Tax Code to, among other items, restore the ability of businesses to carryback any net operating losses against previous year tax payments; suspend the application of the Section 163(j) limitation on interest expense deductions for tax year 2020 to avoid penalizing businesses for borrowing during this crisis; and suspend the Section 461(l) loss limitation on pass-through businesses to allow the owners of pass-through businesses to fully deduct any losses they incur this year. d. Any financial aid afforded the fuel and energy sector should include assistance to companies that produce renewable fuel and renewable power.
7. Rural Communities a. Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Remove the annual 5 percent reduction in future SRS payments. Allow SRS funding to be used for broadband connectivity. With the increasing number of school closures, it is critical that these counties have the flexibility to expand connectivity within their communities. b. Mandatory Funding for Payments In-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Provide mandatory PILT funding for the estimated 61 percent of counties that have nontaxable federal public lands to pay for health crisis management and emergency response. c. Relax routine requirements With the health care system under stress, some individuals may have difficulty scheduling routine medical exams to maintain waivers for CDLs. This requirement should be suspended temporarily during this emergency.
8. Health Care a. Expand the use of telehealth, specifically: i. Allow Medicare patients to use telehealth even with a doctor that a patient does not have a preexisting relationship. ii. Allow rural health clinics to treat patients with telehealth. b. Provide additional funding for community health centers, which are critical for rural health care service.”
♦ March 20, 2020 - Farm groups press for aid as Congress mulls boost in USDA spending
Farm groups are lobbying Congress and the Trump administration for a number of relief measures to help producers cope with the slide in many commodity markets that has deepened as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens. Congress is being asked to increase USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. spending limit to $50 billion, up from $30 billion, to enable more direct payments to growers, including a another round of Market Facilitation Program payments.
♦ March 19, 2020 - Letter From Idaho Department of Agriculture
The ISDA is in constant contact with the Governor’s Office regarding our response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The Governor has provided guidance for all of Idaho. One thing is clear: the food system is critical infrastructure. The ISDA will do everything we can to ensure we’re doing our part to keep the food system moving. We are fielding calls from businesses, such as livestock sale yards, asking whether ISDA is mandating closure of any agribusiness. The Governor has not mandated closure of operations. However, we strongly encourage enhanced health and cleaning measures.
In response to COVID-19, the ISDA has postponed and canceled some meetings including pesticide exams statewide (list here). Temporarily, there also will be adjustments for some ISDA services. Traffic into all ISDA buildings is limited to by-appointment only at this time. We still will be processing phytosanitary certificates for pick up and other essential services. Many of the services that generate walk-in customers can be completed online. Please see our website payment portal for more information: https://www.isda.idaho.gov/ISDAWebPortal/. If you have any concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Communication is key right now. Please email email@example.com or call at (208) 332-8500. To everyone in Idaho agriculture, thank you for feeding the world. Your work is essential every day but has been especially highlighted in recent weeks.”
♦ March 18, 2020 - Risch Applauds Decision to Make H-2A Visa Program Essential
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today released the following statement regarding the State Department’s decision that the H-2A visa program be considered essential despite temporary closures of embassies and consulates abroad due to the spread of COVID-19:“These are extraordinary times, and in times such as these it is even more critical that the people who put food on every American’s table have the full support of our government. I was very concerned to learn that the H-2A visa program was gravely impacted by the temporary closure of our embassies and consulates around the world, particularly in Mexico, due to the growing coronavirus pandemic. I am glad that in just a matter of hours, the State Department announced that the H-2A visa program is essential to our domestic food supply during this critical time. I will continue to work with Secretary Pompeo and his staff as they work to process H-2A visas expeditiously. Thank you to our farmers and ranchers in Idaho — God bless you for what you do, I will continue to do all I can to support your critical work.”
♦ March 18, 2020 - Farm Bureau Highlights Immediate Challenges Facing the Agriculture Sector
American Farm Bureau has released its first assessment of the impact on farmers and ranchers in the wake of the national mitigation efforts to combat COVID-19. In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, AFBF President Zippy Duvall pledged that “America’s farmers and ranchers will be with you every step of the way, doing all that we can to help you win this fight and to ensure the health, safety and prosperity of all America.” USDA invited Farm Bureau to convey agricultural issues or concerns arising as the pandemic mitigation efforts and impact advance.
Duvall said labor, supply chain issues and possible price manipulation topped the list of immediate issues farmers are raising with the national organization. The letter, which will be updated as new issues materialize, outlines concerns from Farm Bureau members across the country as national and local leaders take action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. H-2A With the State Department’s announcement to suspend all processing of new, non-emergency visa applications in Mexico, U.S. farms and ranches could face a serious labor shortage at a critical time for planting and harvesting crops essential to the domestic food supply. U.S agriculture depends on more than a quarter-million H-2A workers every year, and Farm Bureau is calling on the Administration to find a safe measure to ensure these skilled workers can come to our farms and ranches. AFBF along with members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition also sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo to address these concerns.
Supply Chain “As companies adopt social distancing policies in keeping with health directives, this mode of work could have a significant impact on the processing plants that drive America’s supply chain,” Duvall wrote. Meat packing plants, dairy processors, ethanol plants and other processing facilities all play vital roles in delivering the food and fuel Americans will continue to depend on in the long days ahead. Additional impacts could include access to seed, fertilizer and crop protection tools farmers need to grow a healthy crop. In addition to calling for close monitoring of potential shutdowns or reduced hours at these facilities, Farm Bureau is also requesting that the current FMCSA Emergency Declaration waiver to hours of service for food transportation be expanded to address the full agricultural supply chain. Market Concerns Maintaining stable and fair markets is especially critical at times like these.
Duvall noted concerns from livestock producers regarding market manipulation and urged USDA to monitor the situation to protect ranchers and consumers alike from price manipulation. In the fresh produce market, growers have expressed concerns regarding possible dumping of products from other countries. “USDA should work with the appropriate Federal agencies in ensuring U.S. farmers are not unfairly disadvantaged during this unique period,” Duvall wrote. Duvall also noted USDA’s unique role in urging rural America to take all the prescribed measures to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and thanked Secretary Perdue for his leadership in addressing the crisis facing agriculture and rural America. “We applaud your leadership and commitment and stand ready to work with you as our nation meets this unique challenge.”
♦ March 17, 2020 - USDA Announces Feeding Program Partnership in Response to COVID-19
(Washington, D.C.,) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced a collaboration with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, PepsiCo, and others to deliver nearly 1,000,000 meals a week to students in a limited number of rural schools closed due to COVID-19: “Feeding children who are affected by school closures is a top priority for President Trump and this Administration. USDA is working with private sector partners to deliver boxes of food to children in rural America who are affected by school closures,” said Secretary Perdue. “Right now, USDA and local providers are utilizing a range of innovative feeding programs to ensure children are practicing social distancing but are still receiving healthy and nutritious food. This whole of America approach to tackling the coronavirus leverages private sector ingenuity with the exact same federal financing as the Summer Food Service Program.
USDA has already taken swift action to ensure children are fed in the event of school closures, and we continue to waive restrictions and expand flexibilities across our programs.” “We are grateful to come alongside USDA, PepsiCo, and McLane Global to ensure that children impacted by school closures get access to nutritious food regardless of where they live. We know from first-hand experience that families with children who live in rural communities across the U.S. are often unable to access the existing food sites. Meal delivery is critical for children in rural America to have consistent access to food when school is out. This is one way we, as citizens of this great nation, can respond to our neighbors in need,” said Jeremy Everett, Executive Director, Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. “McLane Global was proud to take part in the success of the summer Meals-2-You home delivery pilot program in 2019. It was a great opportunity to bring private industry best practices together with the USDA to combat rural hunger.
♦ March 17, 2020 - California Health Department offers guidelines for farmers markets
(1) Space booths accordingly to increase social distancing among patrons in line and walking about the market. (2) Ensure that social distancing of six feet per person for non-family members is maintained and make clear that family members can participate in activities together, stand in line together, etc. (3) Limit the number of customers at any given time as necessary to reduce outdoor/indoor crowding and lines to meet social distancing guidance. (4) Increase cleaning and sanitizing frequency of restroom and other high contact areas. (5) Train employees on best hygiene practices including washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (6) Offer additional hand washing or sanitizing stations throughout the venue. (7) Eliminate events/marketing that target individuals that the CDPH has identified as higher risk of serious illness for COVID-19. (8) Encourage activities such as pre-bagging to expedite purchasing. (9) Suspend sampling activities. (10) Increase frequency of cleaning of tables, payment devices, and other surfaces. (11) Eliminate non-essential/non-related services, such as bands or other entertainment. (12) At the end of the market, continue to utilize local food recovery systems to feed/donate extra products to populations in need. (13) If applicable, continue accepting EBT payment.”
♦ March 17, 2020 - Elections Officials Urge Voters To Get An Absentee Ballot For Idaho's Primary In May
The Idaho Secretary of State’s office is urging voters to get an absentee ballot instead of voting in-person during the upcoming May primary. Registered voters have until 11 days before the primary to request an absentee ballot, but it must be received the day polls close to count. Elections officials are currently exploring an online request option that would work for all 44 counties. You can find an absentee ballot request form online here, which must be sent to your county clerk’s office for approval. It could take some time to get to you if you request one right now. Absentee ballots will be mailed 30-45 days before the election. ”
Given the rapid disruptions driven by COVID-19, we can work together to swiftly take this model nationwide. McLane Global is ready to do its part to support the fight against hunger through this crisis,” said Denton McLane, Chairman, McLane Global. “As schools around the country close, millions of schoolchildren now don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In the face of this unprecedented crisis, it’s critical that the private sector help ensure these students have access to nutritious meals,” said Jon Banner, Executive Vice President, PepsiCo Global Communications and President, PepsiCo Foundation. “PepsiCo is committing $1 million to help Baylor create a solution with USDA to identify children most in need and then we will help reach them with at least 200,000 meals per week—one way we are deploying our food and beverage resources to help those most vulnerable.””
♦ March 16, 2020 - Pesticide Training Events Postponed
In regard to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) is taking precautionary actions to protect the safety of our customers. Effective immediately all pesticide-related training events hosted by ISDA have been postponed and will be rescheduled on a later date.”