Amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion relief and stimulus bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. The legislation would provide funding for health services, state and local governments, housing assistance, infrastructure, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), stimulus checks for taxpayers, nutrition assistance, and agricultural economic disaster relief.
While National Farmers Union (NFU) was encouraged that the previous stimulus bill – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – offered much-needed immediate relief to family farmers and rural communities coping with the ripple effects of the pandemic, the organization cautioned that it only scratched the surface of what will ultimately be required to keep family farms in business and ensure national food security.
In a statement, NFU President Rob Larew thanked Congress for continuing their efforts to support the agriculture sector and renewed his earlier calls for a broader reform of the food system.
“These are trying times for family farmers and ranchers,” Larew said. “After struggling through many years of low prices, trade disputes, and bad weather, our nation’s food producers are now contending with yet more difficulties. The pandemic has depressed prices even further, upended agricultural markets, backed up processing and distribution, and dramatically altered demand, all of which is putting immense pressure on farmers of every shape and size.”
He said the HEROES Act would help alleviate some of the pressure farmers and ranchers are facing. Specifically, it would direct an additional $16.5 billion in support to farmers. Larew said the Act also earmarked funds that would “strengthen farmer mental health resources, extend employer-sponsored health care coverage, expand nutrition assistance programs, and assist biofuel plants.”
“As rural communities cope with widespread unemployment, a growing rate of coronavirus cases, and underfunded medical facilities, all of these changes are urgently important and greatly appreciated,” he said.
He said there are “many other things to like” about the HEROES Act as well. It would require additional protections for workers at risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19 like meat plant employees and other food supply chain workers.
“Far too many of these workers have gotten sick or died in the past several months, which has wreaked havoc on the entire food system. We must do more to keep the people who feed us safe – both for their sake and for the sake of our food security,” Larew said.
NFU was also pleased to see $25 billion designated to the U.S. Postal Service, which is could be facing the end of its funding by September.
“By delivering our mail, bills, paychecks, medication, and ballots at a reasonable rate, USPS provides a vital service to all Americans – but it is particularly important to rural Americans who live in areas that lack reliable broadband access and are too remote to be served by private mail services. The loss of USPS would cut these areas off from the outside world, limiting access to critical resources and potentially preventing participation in the upcoming election,” Larew said.
As with any proposal in the midst of the pandemic, Larew said the HEROS Act “is not a cure-all.”
“If anything, this pandemic has revealed significant, underlying flaws in our food system — flaws that will continue to rear their ugly heads if we don’t act quickly to address them. While working on this legislation and future legislation, we urge Congress to make meaningful and lasting changes with policies that balance supply with demand, ensure greater competition in the meat industry, and bolster local and regional food systems,” he concluded.BACK