April 17, 2020
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King joined a bipartisan group of Senators in sending letters urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide financial relief and direct payments to farmers who have suffered from losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act made $9.5 billion available for USDA to provide support for agricultural producers who are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the first letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Senators wrote, “the growth of the local food economy over the last decade has nurtured a diverse group of small and medium size producers who depend on direct markets to reach consumers… Unfortunately, these losses, compounded by increased sanitization and transportation expenses, threaten the survival of many of the farms that supply local food systems.”
Additionally, the Senators requested that for crop year 2020, the Farm Service Agency waive farm number requirements for local food producers and new farmers who currently do not have them. They also called for USDA to establish a national hotline to manage incoming producer inquiries, simplify the application process, and make information about the program available in multiple languages.
In a second letter to the USDA, the Senators wrote, “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act established a $9.5 billion disaster fund and specifically included producers of specialty crops as eligible for assistance. As USDA specifies how this assistance will be provided, we ask that you ensure that specialty crop producers receive assistance that is commensurate with the losses they are facing.”
Specialty crops grown in Maine include potatoes, blueberries, apples, and broccoli.
The fresh produce industry has experienced $5 billion in losses from coronavirus, with additional losses expected in the coming months. Producers are also facing increased costs in order to meet social distancing requirements and adequately protect their workers from coronavirus, on top of existing challenges with trade.
The Senators urged the USDA to provide direct payments to eligible producers for lost revenue and increased production costs related to COVID-19. The senators also asked USDA to purchase specialty crops for redistribution to food banks, schools, and emergency feeding organizations.
In addition to Senators Collins and King, the first letter was signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Gary Peters (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Jack Reed (D-RI).
In addition to Senators Collins and King, the second letter was signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).