June 17, 2020
Legislature advances ‘farmworker package' as other bills stall
Daybreak previously reported on the Assembly passing a bill to mandate coronavirus guidelines for agricultural employers. Asm. Robert Rivas’ California Farmworker COVID-19 Relief Package includes other COVID-related measures that are also progressing through the Legislature.
Rivas teamed up with Bakersfield’s Rudy Salas on Assembly Bill 2164. It requires rural health clinics to adopt telemedicine practices. Rivas is also hoping to expand access to state courts through better e-filing options for documents, arguing this is “a serious problem in many farmworker and other rural communities.” The Assembly passed both bills last week.
In the ongoing budget negotiations, Rivas has been pushing for $25 million to provide temporary housing to farmworkers who must self-isolate after being exposed to COVID-19. While it is unclear how this stands, the Legislature is requesting a trailer bill measure related to farmworker housing development and about $6 million in community services block grants for migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
Rivas had two other farmworker bills stall as well. One would have launched an awareness campaign on sexual assault. The other would have relieved farmers of some of the burden for paying overtime wage premiums during the pandemic. It had the backing of the California Farm Bureau.
Sen. Bill Monning, who, like Rivas, represents a Central Coast district, had his own farmworker bill stall. He aimed to better inform H-2A guestworkers of their rights.
On that note: The Legislature is pushing back on the Newsom administration’s proposed funding cut for a farmworker health study.
Trump trade policy in the spotlight today
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will be the star witness at back-to-back hearings today, first with the House Ways and Means Committee and then in the afternoon with the Senate Finance Committee.
Lighthizer’s likely to be grilled about the state of trade relations with China as well as ongoing negotiations with the United Kingdom and Kenya.
The World Trade Organization, which currently has no judges for its dispute-resolution forum, also is likely to be a major issue, says Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley told reporters he expects Lighthizer to argue that the WTO should be turned into more of an arbitration body rather than allowed to sit in judgment of dispute.
But Grassley wrote in an op-ed for Bloomberg News that “the real threat to the WTO is not the scope of its mandate, but its increasing inability to fulfill it.” He said there is still a need for the WTO’s dispute settlement function: “Truly effective dispute settlement would improve our ability to confront China with our allies.”
Grassley also says he’ll press Lighthizer to be in better communication with Congress going forward.
Take note: Ahead of today’s hearings, more than 190 farm groups and agribusinesses sent a 13-page letter to the White House appealing to President Donald Trump to give China time to fulfill its pledges under the “phase one” trade agreement. Farm groups have been concerned that Trump’s saber-rattling with China could undermine U.S. ag exports.
Read more about the letter here.
Also on tap today: The Senate is expected to approve the Great American Outdoors Act, which would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. The bill will still need final approval from the House. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also is scheduled to release its draft report.
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue delivering Food Boxes in North Carolina on Monday (USDA)
Nearly 16 million Food Boxes delivered
USDA is ramping up for the next round of Food Box deliveries, which are supposed to start in July, but the department is still well short of meeting its goal for the first round. As of Tuesday, USDA has delivered 15.6 million boxes. The goal is to deliver 40 million by June 30.
Industry representatives say companies with first-round contracts have been notified whether they will be allowed to continue. Mollie Van Lieu of the United Fresh Produce Association also says bidders who didn’t get contracts in the first round because of technicalities may be awarded contracts to distribute boxes in underserved regions.
Van Lieu, speaking on a webinar as part of this week’s United Fresh Live! conference, thinks the contracting process could be smoother the second time around.
Ahead of the first round, bidders were sometimes competing to serve the same food banks and non-profits. “We’ll have a better understanding of who is being served by whom, and we can fill in the gaps better,” she said.
By the way: A bill introduced by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., would create a position of agricultural supply chain administrator at USDA. The position would act as a liaison between food banks, schools, grocers, restaurants, and non-profit organizations.
The new office would help farmers that have excess commodities find new distribution networks. The office would include personnel to deal with regulatory and marketing issues.
Analysis: Dairy ‘rejuvenated’ but oversupplied
A new analysis by Rabobank says the coronavirus pandemic has “rejuvenated the dairy category” as consumers globally turn back to a “trusted, nutritious product.” China is emphasizing a government recommendation to increase dairy intake, the report notes.
Moreover, the market disruptions caused by the shutdown in food service also are easing, but Rabobank economists say excess supplies will continue for some time. During the lockdowns, processors diverted milk that would have gone to foodservice into products like butter, cheese and powder. “These inventories will remain elevated and will weigh on markets.”
Take note: The analysis expects retail sales to return more to normal but says the lockdown may have been long enough to change some habits: “Some segments of consumers may continue preparing more food at home on an ongoing basis.”
He said it:
“By the way, Chicken Little says: ‘If anyone sees Henny Penny or Foxie Loxie, please let them know that the sky hasn't fallen.’” – Pete Downs, president of Family Winemakers of California, in an open letter arguing that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is using the COVID-19 situation to enact rules “without a full vetting and sufficient comments from the industry and public.”
Bill Tomson, Steve Davies and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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