COVID-19 Policy round-up: food systems aid so far and to come

Federal and local governments have continued to pass policies and aid packages to try and address the economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic. Figuring out which pieces apply to which sectors can be daunting. We’ve rounded up some links and resources for deciphering what programs provide aid to farmers and food systems stakeholders, as well as some current asks for the next federal aid package.

By Nicole Sugerman, Policy Manager

We will continue to update this blog post as more information becomes available. Posted on 5/12/2020. Last updated on 7/8/2020.


Comprehensive Overviews

The Farmers’ Legal Action Group has partnered with Farm Aid, the Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Rural Advancement Foundation-International, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to compile a comprehensive overview of programs for which farmers are eligible. In addition to federal programs, the guide has a section on state, tribal, and local policies.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition put together a summary of some of the FLAG guides’ highlights along with other legal guidance:

Farm Commons has archived webinars and legal guides about pandemic policy programs, including pandemic unemployment, paid sick leave, Paycheck Protection Program, and Emergency Injury Disaster Loans. 

Food Research & Action Center has breakdowns of all the anti-hunger policies that have been passed so far.

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)

CFAP is the agriculture-specific program being implemented by the USDA under the auspices of the CARES Act. This program has two parts:

  • $16 billion in direct payments for crop and livestock farmers and ranchers. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer the $16 billion direct payment program, and details can be found here. FSAexpects to begin accepting applications on May 26th. 
  • $3 billion in direct purchases of meat, dairy and specialty crops. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will administer this program through a new “Food Box program”. This program is currently rolling out, and AMS just announced its list of approved contractors who will be doing the buying and distributing. 


Marker Bills

Just like during reauthorization of the Farm Bill and other pieces of omnibus legislation, Congress has begun passing marker bills in preparation for the fourth COVID-19 aid package. A marker bill is a bill that is not meant to pass as a stand alone policy, but is introduced to demonstrate support for a particular issue, with the hope that the policy will be included in the omnibus bill. Here are a few to keep your eye on in preparation for the fourth COVID federal aid package. Call your legislators and ask them to support any or all of these bills that matter to you. This list will be updated as we learn about new bills. 

Food Supply Protection Act (S. 3840)

Introduced by:

  • Senator Stabenow (D-MI)

This bill would include infrastructure grants to food banks and nonprofits to help increase their capacity in response to higher demand, as well as grants to support new food partnerships between food banks, EFOs, and other non-profit organizations to connect farmers to hungry families. The bill also includes $5.5 billion in grant and loan programs  for food processors to upgrade their operations to address supply chain bottlenecks and increase capacity.

Learn More

The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act (H.R. 6683/S.3602)

Introduced by: 

  • Representative Maloney (D-NY)
  • Senator Gillibrand (D-NY)

The bill would provide direct debt relief for small farmers around the country by providing a one-time loan forgiveness of up to $250,000 across three types of USDA FSA loans: 

  • Direct Operating
  • Direct Farm Ownership
  • Emergency Loans. 

Eligible farmers must have an average AGI of $300,000 or less over the previous 5 years, regardless of what they grow. 

Learn more

Take action: Sign your organization on as an endorser

Farmers Feeding Families- Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6721 / S.6355)

Introduced by:

  • Representative Schrier (D-WA)
  • Representative McMorris Rogers (R-WA)
  • Senator Casey (D-PA)
  • Senator Pingree (D-ME)

The bill would allow states to purchase food directly from small and mid-scale producers for food banks and food assistance programs. 

Learn more 

Food Assistance for Kids and Families During COVID-19 Act of 2020 (H.R 6445 / S. 3563)

Introduced by: 

  • Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT)
  • Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

This bill would authorize public-private partnerships between the USDA, authorized retailers and community based organizations to support food delivery to SNAP users and provide funding to support grocery delivery for program participants who are seniors, immunocompromised individuals and others unable to travel safely to a retail food outlet such as a grocery store or farmers market.

New Markets for State Inspection Meat and Poultry Act (S.2814)

Introduced by: 

  • Senator Rounds (R-SD).

This bill would allow meat and poultry products inspected by Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) approved state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs to be sold across state lines. Currently, there are 27 states with inspection programs "at least equal to" federal meat and/or poultry inspection programs. 

SNAP CARRY Act (H.R. 6688)

Introduced by:

  • Representative Panetta (D-CA) 

The bill would allow SNAP recipients to use benefits to purchase food from restaurants during a public health emergency by expanding the SNAP Restaurant Meals Program to cover all SNAP recipients.

Learn more

Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020 (S. 4202)

Introduced by:

  • Sen. Durbin (D-IL)
  • Senator Duckworth (D-IL)

SNAP cannot be used online in most parts of the country and, when it can, is only available for shopping at large national chains. This bill would expand SNAP online nationally while also providing information technology investments and technical assistance resources to create the necessary infrastructure to expand online SNAP to all authorized retailers including direct market farmers.

Inspector Overtime Relief for Small Plants (S.3797H.R.6977)  

Introduced by:

  • Senator Moran (R-KS)
  • Representative Johnson (R-SD)

Under current policy, USDA pays for the required food safety inspectors for all federally inspected plants, but for all hours over 40 hours per week, the small plants must pay USDA overtime fees at around $80 an hour. Some small plants who operate on thin margins cannot afford these fees. USDA would use the funds appropriated to help pay some of the full overtime fee to inspectors. This bill would reduce fees for small and very small plants for 18 months.

Photo credit: Peter Castleton. Used under Creative Commons Licensing.