Legislators from 34 States Signed Letter to Agriculture Secretary Perdue
Denver, Colo.— On April 23, 128 state legislators from 34 states and the Virgin Islands sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting the Department of Agriculture ensure local and regional farmers have equitable access to federal stimulus funding.
Congress gave little guidance for how the CARES Act appropriation of $9.5 billion to support local food production should be spent. Meanwhile, many of the food producers selling into the local and regional food economy operate outside the traditional scope of many USDA programs and have suffered significant revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State legislators are concerned that because these farmers are small and often lack political influence they may be left out of the aid.
“Secretary Perdue, USDA, and our elected federal representatives must recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable to address the unique circumstances that this public health emergency presents,” said Iowa State Representative Chuck Isenhart, who coordinated drafting and recruited signatories for the letter, along with the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. “Local and regional food systems are made up of farmers, ranchers, and gardeners who provide fresh produce and protein to their local communities, creating vibrant regional markets supporting both urban and rural economies. We need to ensure that these local farmers have equal access to any federal assistance coming into our states to sustain agricultural enterprises.”
In addition to urging Secretary Perdue to allow states to address the unique needs of their local food producers through the use of block grants, the letter supported the recommendations of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to:
Ensure that aid to local and regional food system food producers is commensurate with expected losses of more than $1 billion;
Invest in and offer supports for market development designed to foster the stabilization, growth, and increased sustainability of the production of food for local and regional consumption;
Prioritize small- and mid-sized farms that sell directly into local and regional markets, with special attention to farmers historically underserved by USDA;
Provide funds directly to producers, including livestock contract growers, and not to integrators, packers, or processors likely to be eligible for aid through other programs;
Ensure that information about applying for aid is readily accessible, provided in multiple languages and formats, and that assistance for applicants with limited English proficiency is readily available;
Not limit aid to farmers that are already participating in federal programs; farms should not be required to have an FSA number in order to receive aid;
Provide outreach to farmers about aid opportunities that is thorough and robust, including outreach to urban farmers, indigenous farmers, Black farmers, minority farmers, very small and limited-resource farmers, and with limited English proficiency;
Guarantee that the Inspector General has all of the information to ensure a timely and robust audit of the implementation of the agricultural provisions in the CARES Act.
“The COVID-19 epidemic has demonstrated how important a local food supply chain is to ensure community resilience during times of crisis and beyond,” said Kendra Kimbirauskas, Director of Agriculture for SiX. “We need to think and act boldly to support strong and just local food systems in order to ensure that all people have access to healthy and fresh food. We can’t do that if our local food producers go out of business.”