United Fresh Urges Congress to Take Immediate Action in Response to COVID-19 Challenges
- by Kayla Webb
UNITED STATES - As we continue to navigate the pressures of today’s market, the United Fresh Produce Association is stepping up to advocate for solutions for the fresh produce industry. Specifically, the association has requested urgent action by Congress to mitigate the challenges facing the sectors that have been impacted most by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This outbreak has had a seismic impact throughout the produce supply chain and is causing extreme uncertainty in the industry,” wrote Tom Stenzel, President and CEO, in a letter United Fresh sent urging for action from Congress. “United Fresh Produce Association has done a thorough analysis of the current situation and strongly believes there are a number of legislative and regulatory actions that should be considered that would help alleviate some of the current barriers we have addressed...and are seeing throughout the industry.”
These barriers include the challenges distributors and growers are facing because of the effects of closing schools and halting the restaurant industry. In response, United Fresh sent two letters on Saturday, March 21. The first, addressed to Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Minority Leader McCarthy, and Senate Minority Leader Schumer, and the second, addressed to USDA Secretary Perdue, both include requests to Congress and the USDA to consider the following recommendations when addressing the food and agriculture community:
- Establish a $5 billion fund that would be utilized to address claims filed by foodservice distributors who have outstanding expenditures to grower-shippers. Based on submission and verification of these claims by foodservice distributors, the fund would allow the USDA to reimburse grower-shippers directly based on these approved claims
- Immediately make an additional $1 billion available under DoD Fresh and the USDA Vendor Program to help meet the needs of schools and all emergency feeding sites that are experiencing increased demand. Notably, DoD Fresh prime vendors and fresh produce vendors are primarily small businesses that face a unique set of challenges when disruption hits. We urge Congress and USDA to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize this existing supply chain capability to meet the needs of schools, food banks, and other emergency feeding sites that are scrambling to meet the unprecedented needs of their communities—while ensuring these businesses can continue to provide employment for their workers and be in business when schools return
- Provide $225 million funding for the Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to accommodate a temporary increase to the cash-value voucher benefits
Additional requests made include having the USDA PACA Division consider posting general information to the industry about their rights and responsibilities under PACA and where there can be flexibility in extending payment terms without losing their PACA Trust rights; making the USDA-backed loan program available for food distribution businesses; and allowing schools to convert Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) funding into flexible fresh produce purchasing
AndNowUKnow will continue to keep the industry apprised of all developments.