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Federal steps being taken to address coronavirus concerns

By Matt Reese and Dave Russell

On March 27, President Donald J. Trump signed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act) into law with provisions to provide financially distressed consumers and small businesses greater access to bankruptcy relief. The legislative package, which quickly passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote, provides a $2 trillion economic stimulus for U.S. industries and citizens faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The COVID-19 impact on agriculture includes a rapid and unanticipated decline in commodity prices, the likely closure of ethanol plants, the dramatic decline in full-service restaurant and school meal demand, and the reduction in direct-to-consumer sales. The agreement reportedly includes a $14 billion increase in USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation and $9.5 billion to assist specialty crop producers, direct retail farmers and livestock operators.

“The timeline is very much up in the air in terms of when things will come out and what things might look like,” said Ben Brown, Ohio State University Farm Management Program Manager. “This is a temporary Band-Aid to stop some of the bigger financial losses. We’ll have to see what comes out and what they designed as we move forward.”

In addition to the stimulus package, the U.S. State Department addressed another coronavirus concern by revising its restrictions on the processing of visa applications submitted by farm workers in Mexico after due to the potential for the restrictions to lead to a farm worker shortage in the U.S. Consular officers can now waive the visa interview requirement for eligible first-time and returning H-2A and H-2B applicants, making more workers in the H-2 program available while prioritizing public health.

“We applaud the administration for recognizing the contributions H-2A and H-2B workers make on farms across this country to ensure Americans have access to healthy, affordable food. Acknowledging the critical role of immigrant farm laborers by expanding the number eligible for visas protects the public health while ensuring families continue to have access to a stable food source,” said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president. “America’s farmers and ranchers are committed to feeding America’s families during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Workers in the H-2A program represent 20% of the country’s farm workforce, so their contributions are necessary as we enter a critical time in the planting season.”

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