By Julia Johnson
The Coronavirus Pandemic has dramatically changed life as we know it in the United States. Government from the local to the federal level, the private sector, and non-profit organizations alike are practicing unprecedented levels of partnership and cooperation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19. Recent bills passed by Congress and signed by the President to respond to COVID-19 have not forgotten about the food and agriculture industry’s essential role in ensuring the continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. More legislation is expected in the days and weeks ahead, but what is in the first two bills for food and agriculture?
On March 6th the President signed H.R.6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. Less than two weeks later on March 18th, the President signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Both bills came together under rapid mobilization by U.S. lawmakers, exemplifying the bipartisan desire to contain the virus and equip Americans to tackle resulting challenges.
The first bill, also known as “Phase One” provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. The funds are directed towards agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), among others, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. For small business, the bill provides $20 million for the Disaster Loans Program operated by the Small Business Administration and defines the coronavirus as a disaster.
The second bill, or “Phase Two” provides over $100 billion to combat the virus and mitigate its impacts. The bill provides paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expands food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requires employers to provide additional protections for health care workers.
Phase Two places a heavy emphasis on domestic food security programs. It specifically provides $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and $100 million in USDA nutrition assistance grants for several U.S. territories. While schools are closed, the bill provides nutrition assistance for children who normally receive free or reduced school meals. It authorizes Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to issue nationwide school meal waivers, waivers to child and adult care centers that allow them to provide meals to those in their care, and waivers that allow people to be certified for WIC more easily. The bill temporarily lifts all work and training requirements under the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and authorizes Secretary Perdue to grant states waivers allowing emergency SNAP benefits to households currently covered by the program. In addition to these food assistance provisions, Phase Two provides emergency family and medical leave, emergency unemployment insurance, emergency paid sick leave, and tax credits for paid sick leave, and paid family and medical leave.
While debate continues in Congress on the next phases of the coronavirus response, including the possibility of more stimulus packages, one thing remains clear – Congress views food and agriculture as a critical piece of maintaining social, political, and economic security in this time of crisis. OFW Law will continue to track the U.S. government response and will provide updates on what is in future legislation for food and agriculture.