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U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, reintroduced the Food Supply Protection Act with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) 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 continued to disrupt our nation’s food supply chain, creating a ripple effect that’s harming our families, farmers, and workers,” said Senator Stabenow. “Our bipartisan bill will help strengthen our food supply by redirecting food to families and helping farmers and processors retool their operations. It is critical that it becomes law as soon as possible.”
“Ensuring Alaskans have access to fresh, healthy food through local food banks and nonprofits has been a long-standing challenge. And now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with disruptions in supply chains, strained resources, and ongoing financial challenges, the difficulties of supporting food distribution opportunities has only been exacerbated,” said Senator Murkowski. “Fishermen and the seafood industries are important contributors to food security and have been equally hit hard by the challenges attributed to the pandemic. I’m proud to support legislation that will create new opportunities for States, Tribes, food banks and non-profits to decrease food waste, assist Alaskans in need, and ensure that farmers, fishermen, food processers, and other workers have the support they need to carry out their job safely.”
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, grocery prices are rising, and food banks and other human service organizations are experiencing exceptionally high demand.
Originally introduced in May, the Food Supply Protection Act will 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, and 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.
The reintroduced bipartisan bill makes improvements to support the seafood industry and adds additional flexibilities for states and tribes. The changes will allow states to purchase seafood and shellfish to distribute to food banks and clarifies that fishermen and seafood processors are eligible for grants and loans to retool their operations and protect their workers. The bill will also provide more flexibility for states and tribes to distribute food to those in need, particularly in rural areas that lack nonprofit infrastructure. The bill also increases the grant funding available to farmers and processors from $1 million to $2.5 million.
In addition to Senators Stabenow and Murkowski, the bill is co-sponsored by 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.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
The Food Supply Protection Act is supported by over 50 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 Farm Workers Foundation, and more.