U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, introduced legislation to help protect the food supply after the COVID-19 crisis has put an unprecedented strain on farmers, workers, food banks, and families.
“The COVID-19 crisis has tested the strength of our nation’s food supply chain, creating a ripple effect that’s harming our families, farmers and workers,” said Senator Stabenow. “This bill will help strengthen our food supply by redirecting food to families and helping farmers and processors retool their operations.”
The shift in demand from restaurants and food service to retail and food donations has caused bottlenecks in the supply chain. Meanwhile, outbreaks of COVID-19 in food processing plants have sickened thousands of workers and slowed production across the country. Farmers have struggled to sell their crops, and some have had no choice but to dispose of perfectly good food. At the same time, the price of groceries are rising, and food banks and other human service organizations are experiencing exceptionally high demand.
In addition to advocating for worker protections and increased nutrition assistance benefits, Stabenow authored the Food Supply Protection Act to help fill the gaps in the broken food supply chain, reduce food waste, and help farmers, workers, processors, food banks, and families in need.
The Food Supply Protection Act will:
- Support food banks and non-profits to help increase their capacity and address growing demand. The bill will provide infrastructure grants that can be used for additional cold storage and refrigeration, transportation, personal protective equipment, rental costs, and additional use of commercial and community infrastructure.
- Strengthen food partnerships to prevent food waste and feed families. Through grants and reimbursements, the bill will support new partnerships to make purchases of excess food and increase donations to food banks, schools, nonprofits. These partnerships will promote innovative collaborations with chefs and restaurants and focus on the needs and creative solutions in local communities. They will allow for a diverse variety of purchases and include many areas and products left out of the USDA’s current food box program to ensure more people in need and agricultural producers of all sizes and types can access support.
- Protect workers and retool small and medium-sized food processors. Through grants, loans, and loan guarantees, the bill will support upgrading machinery, temporary cold storage, purchasing personal protective equipment and test kits, and cleaning. This funding will assist farmers and small and medium-sized food processors in protecting their workers and help them cater to new markets so they can continue operations and alleviate bottlenecks in the supply chain.
In addition to Senator Stabenow, the bill is co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Robert Casey (D-Penn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Food Supply Protection Act is supported by over 40 food and agricultural organizations, including Feeding America, the James Beard Foundation, Chef José Andrés, National Farmers Union, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Milk Producers Association, United Fresh, United Farm Workers Foundation, and more.
Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer of Feeding America: “Feeding America applauds the leadership of Senator Stabenow in introducing the Food Supply Protection Act, which would invest in new partnerships to connect growers and producers with food banks and other nonprofits to help feed communities. The legislation also provides vital support for food distribution costs and capacity investments that will help food banks connect this nutritious food with families in need.”
Katherine Miller, VP of Impact at the James Beard Foundation: “During this unprecedented crisis, we need creative solutions to feed our communities and keep food businesses alive. This bill will help chefs and restaurants do what they do best – feed families and uplift their communities in innovative ways.”
Chef José Andrés, Founder of the relief organization World Central Kitchen: “As farmers are forced to plow crops back into the soil while lines stretch for miles at food banks, the need for a holistic food supply plan that keeps Americans fed safely could not be more urgent. From ensuring food processing facilities have access to PPE to increasing storage capacity at food banks, to innovative partnerships with farms and restaurants that expand the reach of national hunger programs while supporting small business recovery, I’m proud to support the Food Supply Protection Act as a bold step that turns food from a problem into a solution.”
Rob Larew, President of the National Farmers Union: “Every link in the food system, from farm to fork, is experiencing serious disruptions right now. If left unchecked, these disruptions could threaten farmers' livelihoods and undermine national food security. But by both facilitating the acquisition and distribution of surplus food from farmers to food banks as well as helping food and agricultural businesses adapt to new challenges, the Food Supply Protection Act will help ensure that food continues to flow safely and efficiently from farmers' fields to consumers' plates. We commend Senator Stabenow's commitment to defend family farmers and feed hungry Americans during this difficult time.”
Chuck Conner, President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives: “The Food Supply Protection Act will complement the efforts of USDA to ensure that the great bounty produced by this country’s farmers and ranchers reaches Americans in need at this difficult and trying time. By helping food banks expand their capacity to carry fresh foods and by providing support for small and medium food processors to expand their capacity, this legislation strengthens critical links in a food supply chain that has been strained to its limit during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation: “Dairy farmers and manufacturers continue to endure significant headwinds on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, and American households across the country are facing massive economic pain and uncertainty. We thank Senator Stabenow for writing the Food Supply Protection Act to provide critical funding to enhance dairy and other food donations to food insecure populations and to fortify the food and ag supply chain by helping to meet critical resource needs.”
Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President of the United Fresh Produce Association: “We thank Senator Stabenow for her ever-present support of specialty crops. The Food Supply Protection Act offers new opportunities to help feed hungry people and ensure that the supply chain is prepared when business returns. We look forward to working with Senator Stabenow around ways to continue to support the fresh fruit and vegetable industry.”
Teresa Romero, President of the United Farm Workers Union: "The COVID-19 crisis has helped educate government officials what many already knew—farm workers are essential workers. Without farm workers, America cannot eat. By rewarding agricultural employers for providing personal protective equipment and taking measures to protect employees from COVID-19, Senator Stabenow's bill is a first step toward making sure the essential work done by farm workers is supported with the pay, benefits, and protections that essential work deserves. We look forward to making more progress so that we can truly honor the women and men who feed us.”
More supporter quotes are available here.