Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., led 27 additional senators on a bipartisan letter calling on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to ensure that specialty crop producers receive financial assistance from losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act established a $9.5 billion disaster fund and specifically included producers of specialty crops as eligible for assistance,” the senators wrote. “As USDA specifies how this assistance will be provided, we ask that you ensure that specialty crop producers receive assistance that is commensurate with the losses they are facing.”

The fresh produce industry has experienced $5 billion in losses from coronavirus, with additional losses expected in the coming months. Producers are also facing increased costs to meet social distancing requirements and adequately protect their workers from coronavirus, on top of existing challenges with trade.

The senators urged USDA to provide direct payments to eligible producers for lost revenue and increased production costs related to COVID-19.

“As USDA considers allocations of these funds, we ask that USDA take into account losses as a result of coronavirus that are incurred beyond the designated health emergency timeframe. Farmers with peak harvest crops in the summer and fall also face considerable uncertainty so accurately accounting for and addressing those losses will be critical,” the senators wrote. 

To immediately reduce the inventory of product and stabilize prices, they also asked that USDA purchase fresh and processed specialty crops for redistribution to food banks, schools, and emergency feeding organizations.

“Farmers have lost contracts with schools and restaurants, schools that are continuing to serve fresh product have substantially reduced their orders, and producers are experiencing challenges exporting product, all of which have contributed to surplus inventories,” they noted. Click for the full text of the letter.

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