Since this crisis began, the United Fresh Board of Directors and I have pushed our association to drive two priorities on behalf of our members.
First, we’ve had to do everything possible to support our industry in keeping the fresh produce supply chain moving to consumers. Despite the effective shutdown of the foodservice sector, we have to continue feeding America. The partnerships and cooperation across our industry to achieve that goal are inspiring. Here are a few of the steps our association and our food partners have taken to keep our supply chain open.
- Emergency streamlining of H2A guestworker visas to assure ag workers can harvest the crops.
- DHS designation of the food supply chain as part of essential public health infrastructure, with constant work at state and local levels to overcome barriers. Efforts have helped keep open food chain facilities from ports to truck stops to grocery stores.
- Industry-wide certification document for food workers to demonstrate that they are part of the essential workforce.
- Industry-wide protocol approved by FDA and CDC for how companies should handle positive cases with food workers.
- Industry-wide guidance on social distancing for food production, employee health screening, and approaches to conserve personal protective equipment and sanitation materials.
- Partnership with FMI and NGA to connect retailers with foodservice distributors with available capacity to deliver produce and share perishable logistics.
- FDA approval to allow packages labeled for foodservice to be redirected to retail.
- USDA streamlined regulations for school meals from remote feeding sites, WIC and SNAP to keep people fed.
- Coordination with DHS to secure continued food industry access to sanitation materials, gloves.
Our second and equal priority has been to drive financial relief for those companies that have been devastated by this crisis and face continuing losses. It’s critical that the House has now joined with the Senate to pass the CARES Act, providing more than $2 trillion to mitigate the crisis in our economy. We expect the President to sign the bill shortly.
Our work with Congress and USDA led to a specific carve-out for agriculture, with language supporting financial relief for the fruit and vegetable sector. There are numerous provisions in the bill that offer support to different types of companies. Our team has provided a summary of the legislation and other tools here and here to help members tap into these programs as soon as possible.
Financial relief from USDA for our produce supply chain losses will be part of our eventual solution; we’re engaged with USDA and Congressional leaders to shape a support program that provides maximum value to all affected parties in our supply chain. Our initial request to USDA can be found here.
I wish we could tell you today how your company will be able use all these new programs. It’s going to take some time for government to implement those details. But I can tell you help is on the way, and food will win!
Let me conclude with this – I met online with our Executive Committee and senior association staff this afternoon, and we ended our meeting with the recognition that all of you and your teams on the front line are the real heroes of our industry. We thank you and salute you.
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