Michigan’s specialty crop growers are going to be seeing some assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
A group of 108 bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue—requesting assistance. They asked for funding to develop and execute a recovery and relief plan for specialty crop growers.
Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan’s 6th District was one of the signees.
“We asked for three things,” said Upton. “We want to make sure that there’s fresh produce purchases, we want to look at direct payments to specialty crop producers, and then we need to work on the Perishable Ag Commodities Act. We know there’s a lot of obligations that are there—we need some flexibility to make sure that it works.”
H-2A workers are an important part of Michigan’s specialty crop industry. Last week, Upton and more than 100 other members of Congress were on a conference call with Sec. Perdue. Since there’s difficulty finding domestic farm workers, Upton asked Perdue why H2-A workers aren’t eligible for the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP).
“We may need a legislative fix to get that done, which is what the USDA has told us,” he said. “We’re going to work on that, perhaps as early as the next Phase Four Program, which will start when Congress comes back—around May 4. I like to think that maybe with a little bit of a legislative fix, we can, again, come with a bipartisan consensus to include some of these operations that weren’t allowed in this first round.”
Because of social distancing due to COVID-19, the U.S. State Department won’t be processing new H-2A visas. Upton is hoping that changes.
“We’ve been pushing USDA—they’re looking at labor numbers,” he said. “They know that at a time like this, we got to make sure that from A to Z, from raising [a crop] to the marketplace to the grocery store door, that the chain is not interrupted. We don’t want to lose it because once we do, it’s gone.”
Upton says Washington is signaling that USDA will be issuing regulations on the CARES Act to specialty crop growers next week. Approximately $1.5 billion of the $2 trillion bill will go to specialty crop producers.
For updates from Upton, visit upton.house.gov.