Ranking Member Stabenow Leads Advocates in Urging USDA to Prioritize Protections for Food Workers

WASHINGTON– U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today joined leading agriculture and worker advocates to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement the bipartisan worker protection provisions in the COVID-19 assistance package. USDA recently announced an additional round of food boxes without taking action on important provisions to keep food workers safe and repair the persistent gaps in the food supply chain.

“The Trump Administration is failing to strengthen the food supply chain and protect workers,” said Senator Stabenow. “Congress gave USDA the funds and flexibility to help producers and processors keep their workers safe. In order to repair our food supply and feed families in need, USDA must prioritize safety in addition to food purchases.”

In the recently passed COVID-19 assistance package, Congress provided no less than $1.5 billion to fund purchases of food for distribution to those in need, and to provide worker protection measures, and retooling support for farmers, farmers markets, and food processors, with the flexibility to spend additional funds to address COVID-19-related needs in the food supply chain. The provision was inspired by Senator Stabenow’s bipartisan Food Supply Protection Act to help protect the food supply after the COVID-19 crisis put an unprecedented strain on farmers, workers and food banks.

USDA recently announced funding for food purchases through the Farmers to Families Food Box program, but has yet to commit additional funds to protect workers and ensure the continuity of the food supply chain. Congress gave USDA the ability and authority in the COVID-19 assistance package to provide assistance to protect workers and the supply chain.

“The United States has historically relied on the backbreaking work of people of color to bring food to our tables. From predominantly African American workers in the South in the past, to mostly Latino workers today. To safeguard our food supply chain and address racial inequities, farm workers must be at the center of national agricultural policy and COVID-19 packages. We look forward to working with future Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Chairman David Scott to ensure that the essential work done by farm workers is supported with the benefits and protections that essential work deserves,” said Teresa Romero, United Farm Workers Union President.

“Our farms, and the hardworking, skilled men and women who grow, harvest, pack and ship our food, have been essential to the nation’s pandemic response. From day one, farmers have stepped up and made significant investments to protect their workforces, and will be asked to do even more as the pandemic extends into a second year. We are thankful that Congress is not asking farmers to bear the full burden of these mounting expenses and strongly encourage USDA to follow through with an allocation of meaningful funds to further promote agricultural worker safety,” said Dave Puglia, Western Growers President & CEO.

"America's frontline food workers are putting their health on the line every day to feed our families as COVID-19 cases surge across the country. The USDA should be protecting these brave essential workers and strengthening anti-hunger programs like SNAP that so many families are relying on. Instead, the Trump Administration is once more funneling taxpayer dollars into the pockets of their well-connected friends tied to the food box program. As the union for our country's essential food workers, UFCW is calling on the USDA to do its job to protect those who are bravely serving on the frontlines of this pandemic,” said Marc Perrone, United Food and Commercial Workers International President.

“The fresh produce industry is committed to prioritizing the safety of our workers.  We play an essential role in feeding American consumers and the world at a time when our healthy fruits and vegetables are more in need than ever. With every stage of the emerging COVID-19 crisis, our industry has worked hard to embrace all public health advice for social distancing, personal and facility hygiene, face coverings and more.  We strongly believe that by allocating funding and resources towards measures focused on worker safety, our industry will continue to build on our commitment to the safety and wellbeing of our employees, the safety of the products they harvest, and the health of all Americans who will continue to consume and demand fresh produce as part of their daily intake to fight back against this virus,” said Robert L. Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association Senior Vice President, Public Policy.

“Our nation’s 2.4 million essential farm workers are at the core of the food supply chain yet they face tremendous limitations in securing safeguards in the workplace. For the very first time, the agricultural title in the recent COVID-19 package included language to support worker protection activities by employers and other organizations, an important step towards mitigating the spread of COVID-19 among farmworkers and agricultural communities.  We look forward to working with future Chair Debbie Stabenow and Chairman David Scott around ways to continue to support the workers who are integral to our food security,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director.

“The safety and protection of our workers has been a top priority for apple growers across the country as we work to deliver America’s favorite fruit safely to consumers here and abroad. In March apple growers began incurring significant costs providing workers with PPE and costly facility and housing retrofits. Profit margins were already razor-thin or nonexistent and these costs have been a huge and unexpected burden. We thank Senator Stabenow, for acknowledging this significant need, and we join her in urging USDA to act and provide grants and loans for the purpose of protecting workers from COVID-19,” said Jim Bair, USApple President and CEO