June 26, 2020
On June 22, a coalition of horticulture groups, including PMA, submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) regarding direct payments to domestic agricultural producers economically impacted by COVID-19 – part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The comments and supporting evidence make a clear case for the appropriateness and need for direct payments to domestic floriculture producers.
In addition, the group suggested a revenue-based approach that better reflects the actual harm rather than a price-loss mechanism emphasized in USDA’s current approach. In the initial CFAP announcement, USDA mentioned that floral producers will be eligible for payments after the NOFA comments are considered and a final rule with a payment approach are determined. The final rule will include a payment formula for floral producers and applications can then be made through their local Farm Service Agency office for CFAP payments.
On June 22, President Trump issued an executive order suspending the issuance of any H-1B visas (visas that are used for skilled workers) , H-2B visas (visas that apply to seasonal workers), H-4 visas (visas are given to spouses of H-1B visa holders), L-1 visas (visas are used for executives transferring to the United States from positions abroad with the same employer), and certain J-1 visas (visas are given to researchers, scholars and other specialized categories such as au pairs) for the rest of 2020, as an attempt to address the high unemployment numbers that came as a result of COVID-19.
The order does not apply to those already in the United States, and it gives the Administration some flexibility in creating other exceptions. For example, immigrants applying for visas to provide labor "essential to the United States food supply chain" are exempt. Individuals "whose entry would be in the national interests" as determined by the federal government are exempt, as well. On April 22, the President ordered a 60-day freeze on several categories of family and employment-based immigration visas, limits that have now been extended through the end of 2020.
May 22, 2020
On May 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced details for the implementation of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). While floriculture products were not enumerated in the list of specialty crops that are to be included in the initial use of funds, floriculture growers will be able to apply at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office once USDA issues a Notice of Funding Available (NOFA).
Through the NOFA process, USDA will accept submissions of data from growers for 30 days to determine the degree of the impact on the market and to create a price formula. Once the formula is published in the Federal Register, floriculture growers needs to submit comments to the Federal Register to show the severity of the impact of COVID on the floricultural industry.
After USDA finalizes the formulas, growers will be able to apply for funds at their local FSA. It is not yet clear when the NOFA will be published and when floriculture growers will be able to apply for funds under CFAP.
April 27, 2020
Small Business Funding
Congress has passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, a nearly $500 billion bill that provides additional funding for small business loan programs as well as hospitals and COVID-19 testing supplies and equipment. The bill infuses an additional $310 billion into the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The initial $350 billion in PPP was exhausted in less than two weeks, and most lenders are expecting the SBA to run through these new dollars in less than a week due to high demand.
Learn more about the SBA Paycheck Protection Program.
USDA Support for Floriculture
USDA announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which was created through funding provided by the third COVID emergency funding bill. USDA will spend approximately $19 billion, of which about $16 billion will go to direct payments for growers and livestock producers. Despite the name and emphasis on food production, we have confirmed with USDA and Congressional staff that floriculture will have access to direct payments to help provide some support in response to significant sales losses and order cancellations.
USDA is expected to release additional details on the program and how to apply in the coming days. We have been told the application process will open in early May, and checks should be delivered in June. However, despite a payment limit of $125,000 per operation, the total dollars available are finite and demand across agriculture will be high. Once information is available and the application process is open, we urge members to apply quickly. Learn more.
Learn more about the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
March 31, 2020
Last week, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package will provide financial support for the nation’s families and working people, stabilize the economy, provide relief for small business, support hospitals and schools, and protect jobs.
The bill includes nearly $350 billion for a Paycheck Protection Program to provide small business with zero-fee loans for up to $10 million. The bill also includes $10 billion in funding to provide an advance of $10,000 to small businesses that apply for an SBA economic injury disaster loan (EIDL) within three days of applying for the loan. SBA is still working through how these loans will be administered and will post guidance soon.
For agriculture, the bill provides: $9.5 billion to support farmers who are experiencing financial losses due to the coronavirus crisis, $14 billion through the Commodity Credit Corporation, $3 million to support an increase in capacity to help USDA Farm Service Agency meet increased demands from farmers, and eligibility for farmers and agricultural and rural businesses to receive up to $10 million in small business interruption loans.
Feb. 20, 2020
President Trump released details of the administration’s FY 2021 budget request. The President’s budget, A Budget for America’s Future, proposes $4.4 trillion in savings over the next 15 years. The budget cuts $48 billion in discretionary funding, including $28 billion from program eliminations and $20 billion in reductions.
For EPA, the budget requests $6.7 billion, a $2.4 billion or 26% decrease from FY 2020, cutting 50 program it considers wasteful. The budget also finds cost savings by decreasing funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative. The budget includes a $3,181,000 decrease in funding for FNRI.
The President’s budget provides $18.2 billion, an increase in $800 million, for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, specifically including “preventing the spread of agricultural pests and diseases” as one of the four core priorities. Additionally, there is an increase in Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Fees. These fees are collected to recover the costs of inspection activities for international passengers, conveyances, animals, plants, and agricultural goods at point of entries. This authority established fees on five modes of international passenger and conveyance transportation: International air passengers, commercial aircraft, commercial vessels, commercial trucks, and commercially loaded rail cars.
Ag Guestworker Bill
The House voted 260 to 165 to pass H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, in December. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), seeks to improve the agricultural visa programs to better accommodate the needs of U.S. farmers and immigrant agricultural workers.
The bill includes: a requirement for Certified Agricultural Worker status applicants to show proof of agricultural employment for 180 days over the last two years; five-year renewable agricultural visas for qualified applicants with an option for permanent resident status; nationwide H-2A visa program changes; wage reform; and language to streamline the filing of applications.
U.S. Signs Phase One of Trade Agreement with China
On January 15, President Trump signed Phase One of the trade agreement with China. The pact increases farm and energy exports and additional protection for American technology and trade secrets. In the agreement, China commits to purchasing an additional $200 billion worth of U.S. goods and services.