By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director
This week, the House and Senate are at work on a new round of relief legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a complex procedural move known as reconciliation, the House and Senate may be able to advance relief and stimulus funds with a narrow majority vote. House Committees have released their portions of the proposal, including the House Committee on Education and Labor, and the House Committee on Agriculture. Included are numerous measures that will support those most in need in our farm to school and early care and education community, including an increase in pandemic EBT (P-EBT) for young children, funds for child care stabilization, and an increase of 15% in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits. In addition, the bill would provide money to purchase directly from producers (such as the Farmers to Families food box program), and to strengthen food supply chain infrastructure and worker protection.
Also included in the proposal from the House Agriculture Committee is a historic measure to provide $4 billion in debt relief and financial support for producers of color with USDA farm loans. An additional $1 billion would address historic and ongoing discrimination in the food system, including oversight for racial equity at USDA, support for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and historically Black land-grant universities, and legal resources for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) producers. This legislative language first debuted in the Senate in the Emergency Relief for Producers of Color Act, introduced by new Senate Ag Committee members Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and longtime farm to school champion Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The leadership of House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-GA-13) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2) in including this measure comes at an especially crucial time. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated long-existing inequities in farm policy, and Black and Indigenous communities have suffered disproportionately from the health, economic, and food security effects of the pandemic. A newly-released analysis from Environmental Working Group found that nearly 97 percent of $9.2 billion in pandemic relief direct payments went to white producers as of October 2020, with white farmers on average receiving four times more than the average Black farmer. Clearly, the status quo is not enough to provide real, equitable relief to BIPOC producers struggling during this pandemic. Debt forgiveness is a direct and immediate measure that government can take to address the structural injustices that are still happening.
As the full legislative package makes its way to the House floor this week, and as the Senate takes up relief measures, National Farm to School Network urges policymakers to prioritize the urgent need for bold measures such as this one during and after the current crisis.