USDA to provide COVID-19 aid to farm, slaughter, grocery workers
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced today that the Agriculture Department will make $600 payments to farmworker and meatpacking workers to help with pandemic-related health and safety costs.
The $700 million in competitive funding will be available through the new Farm and Food Workers Relief (FFWR) grant program.
The money will be distributed by nonprofit and labor group-related entities that can prove they can reach the workers. It may take as long as one or two years to reach everyone who deserves the payments, Vilsack said in a call to reporters. The workers will not have to show receipts to prove they are entitled to the aid. Vilsack said that the number of workers affected by the pandemic is “sobering.”
Vilsack said he could not say whether undocumented workers can get the payments, because there are legal issues that have to be resolved. But he said personally he believes that as many workers should be helped as possible.
There is no requirement in terms of vaccination status, Vilsack said.
Additionally, to recognize the essential role and costs borne by front-line grocery workers, $20 million of this amount has been set aside for at least one pilot program to support grocery workers, and to test options for reaching them in the future. That program is not large enough to cover all grocery workers, but Vilsack said he hopes Congress will provide more money that could be used to aid other food production workers and grocery store workers.
Vilsack said he plans another announcement of $700 million in grants for producers, farmers and others, including seafood processors.
Vilsack was joined on a call to reporters by United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres and United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone.
Torres and Peronne stressed that farm workers and meatpacking workers could not shield themselves from the pandemic by working from home, and had to go to the fields and the plants. They also noted that the workers found it difficult to socially distance while performing their duties.
The new program is funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and is part of USDA’s Build Back Better efforts to respond and recover from the pandemic. There will be a peer review and an internal administrative review when the work is done.
Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, issued news releases praising the aid program.
–The Hagstrom Report
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