NPC concerned program’s structural limitations will cause effort to fall short of goals
WASHINGTON – Today, the Biden Administration announced $700 million in new funding intended to support entities that purchased personal protective equipment and incurred vaccination costs and related expenses in combating COVID-19. Of that total, $650 million in the Pandemic Response and Safety (PRS) Grant program is targeted for the agriculture industry.
“Over the past few months, the National Potato Council and our partners in the agriculture industry have given feedback to USDA on the need to support those who incurred COVID-19 PPE and vaccination costs in the heavily-impacted specialty crop sector. Although we appreciate the intention of today’s announcement and the release of these funds, unfortunately, certain limitations in the structure of the program will cause it to fall short of providing the necessary relief that the Administration and Congress intended,” said Kam Quarles, Chief Executive Officer of the National Potato Council.
Quarles notes that by limiting relief only to small entities, the program leaves out the vast majority of agricultural employers, particularly in the high-cost specialty crop industry, who incurred substantial expenses in protecting their workforce. “COVID-19 made no distinction in its threat to farmworkers and other essential employees at small, medium or large farms. Each of those workers required gear and access to vaccines to keep them safe, and the entities who provided it to them should be eligible for support,” said Quarles.
“This relief program draws a distinction when the virus did not. In particular, the ‘annual sales’ limitation makes a large number of financially-stressed employers ineligible for relief for these essential and costly actions. Our advice to USDA has been to support the actions that kept farmworkers safe, regardless of the size of the entity providing them. The program announced today does not meet that equitable goal, but we intend to continue working with Congress and the Administration to achieve it in the future,” Quarles concluded.