(FDACS) — Congressional leaders agreed upon a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues setting new case records, the bill will provide some direct assistance to families and additional funding for food production and distribution, among other priorities.
On the bill, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried offered the following statement:
“For more than nine months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of Florida’s families, consumers, farmers, and ranchers. State agriculture departments like ours have worked hard to support our citizens through these difficulties, but it’s critical that Congress step up during these unprecedented challenges.
With our growers facing more than half a billion dollars in losses from the pandemic, these payments will help Florida’s agriculture industry continue producing the nation’s food – especially during the winter when our seasonal growers feed 150 million Americans. With unemployment reaching record heights and nearly 1 in 5 Floridians facing food insecurity, ensuring food distribution to those in need, helping families afford food, and supporting child nutrition in schools are essential priorities.
While Congress should pass this bill, this bipartisan legislation isn’t perfect – and it does far too little for struggling families. With Florida the second-worst state for paying unemployment benefits, our citizens need a stronger lifeline during this devastating, hundred-year pandemic. And while corporations make out like bandits with federal aid, we must ensure that our small farmers, small businesses, and gig economy workers get the help they deserve.”
The legislation includes estimated funding for the following agricultural and nutrition assistance priorities:
Farmers & Rancher Payments: $5 billion for supplemental payments to row crop producers; up to $3 billion for supplemental payments to eligible cattle, livestock, poultry, and dairy producers; and $225 million for supplemental payments to eligible specialty crop producers;
Other Agriculture Assistance: $100 million for Specialty Crop Block Grants to support seasonal growers; $100 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program to help producers, farmers markets, and food businesses adapt to supply chain issues; $75 million for the Farming Opportunities Training Outreach program to assist minority, tribal, veteran, and beginning farmers; and $28 million for state block grants to support farmer and rancher mental health initiatives
Food Banks & Donations: Overall $1.5 billion for food purchases for distribution to those in need, including $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP); $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program; $175 million for nutrition services for seniors; and $13 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program
Help for Hungry Americans: 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits for six months; $75 million for SNAP participant fruit and vegetable incentives; provide college students access to SNAP; funding for additional online SNAP retailers and state SNAP expenses; expanding child eligibility for Pandemic-EBT; and emergency funding for meal programs in schools and daycares impacted by COVID-19
Background: The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees several nutrition programs in Florida, including the state’s $1.3 billion school lunch program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program for low-income families, and the Summer BreakSpot program that has served 74 million meals to Florida children since March. Commissioner Fried has made nutrition assistance a priority, including requesting the Governor use CARES Act money to support schools that have lost over $260 million in nutrition funding this year. With Florida farmers and ranchers suffering pandemic-related economic losses, FDACS undertook numerous efforts to support the state’s agriculture industry despite federal payments Commissioner Fried criticized as coming too slowly; these included a new online portal connecting farmers and consumers, and emergency orders to help keep eggs and other crops continue reaching consumers amid shortages. Numerous Members of Congress have been critical that that direct aid to families in the proposed relief bill is not enough given continued unemployment and economic difficulties.