Federal Issues Update

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White House News

  • FEMA Industry Liason ProgramIf you are interested in supporting the response to COVID- 19 with your company’s goods and/or services, please submit your inquiry to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Procurement Action Innovative Response Team (PAIR) team at DHSIndustryLiaison@hq.dhs.gov.
  • (4/01/2020) President Trump extended his Coronavirus Guidelines for America through the next 30 days. Please click here for more information: 30 Days to Slow the Spread (Spanish) 

USDA News 

  • USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue delivers YouTube message to America’s Farmers on March 20, 2020. 
  • USDA Online Services – Online services are available to customers with an e-Auth account, which provides access to the farmers.gov portal where producers can view USDA farm loan information and payments and view and track certain USDA program applications and payments. Online NRCS services are available to customers through the Conservation Client Gateway. Customers can track payments, report completed practices, request conservation assistance, and electronically sign documents. Customers who do not already have an e-Auth account can enroll at farmers.gov/sign-in. 
  • The Risk Management Agency, through its Approved Insurance Providers will continue to deliver crop insurance services such as processing policies and claims, as well as written agreements. 
  • USDA is taking swift action to implement these new provisions and ensure children and families are fed. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) launched a new webpage – www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus – to provide key information on COVID-19 nutrition assistance for program operators and the public alike.
  • Secretary Perdue announced additional flexibilities to make it easier for children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities to get food during the COVID-19 national emergency and remove administrative roadblocks for the dedicated local staff who serve them. Nationwide waivers grant states the flexibility to allow parent pick-up of meals for kids, ease burdens on local meal providers. 
  • FSA is relaxing the loan-making process and changes to Farm Loan, Disaster, Conservation and Safety Net ProgramsPress Release 
  • 4/27/2020) It’s planting season, and USDA is closely following spring planting across the country. USDA encourages you to follow along with their #plant2020 campaign, or even better, share photos of how planting is going on your farm. USDA invites you to send your planting progress by sending an email to sharingoursuccesses@usda.gov with your photos or videos, photo descriptions, your city and state, and your Twitter handle (if you have one). For this campaign, landscape orientation photos work best and please keep video clips to 15-seconds or less.

Labor & Immigration 

  • March 18:Updated ICE Statement on COVID-19: “To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning today, March 18, 2020.  ICE’s highest priorities are to promote lifesaving and public safety activities.  ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”
  • Employers hiring H-2A employees are encouraged to monitor country specific travel information from the Department of State.For the latest information they should monitor the relevant Embassy/Consular websites for specific operational information.
  • The USDA asks that questions regarding the H-2A program be directed to  farmers.gov/manage/h2a or email aglabor@usda.gov
  • March 19, 2020 Families First Corona Virus Act is signed by the President. This is applicable to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. It introduces paid sick leave and expands the availability of the Family and Medical Leave Act. 
  • 3/19/2020 Trump Administration announced the closure of the US-Mexico border. Secretary Pompeo made it clear that the decision would only restrict nonessential travel. The Custom Borders Protection order that’s going to be published Tuesday, 3/24, exempts “essential” crossings. This provides both our H2A guest workers and non-H2A workers who cross the border daily with an exemption. 
  • 3/24/2020 South Africa announced a 21-day national lockdown, resulting in no visa processing being conducted as this time.  Local Department of State (DOS) officials anticipate the lockdown will mean their courier will not be able to deliver or receive passports. DOS continues to monitor the situation and will do what they can to adjudicate H2 visas when they are able. Please monitor the U.S. Embassy in South Africa for updated information. 
  • As of March 20, 2020 The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) remains fully operationalOFLC continues to process and issue prevailing wage determinations and labor certifications that meet all statutory and regulatory requirements. If employers are unable to meet all statutory and regulatory requirements, OFLC will not grant labor certification for the application. These frequently asked questions address impacts to OFLC operations and employers. See FAQ sheet here
  • 3.19.2020 Sick Leave FMLA Updates Families First Coronavirus Response Act.pdf
  • This is a brief collection of FAQs for H-2A employers involving COVID-19  and related issues in the workplace and the government response to the ongoing situation. The situation is extremely fluid, so this represents the best current information but is subject to change quickly and with little notice – please use this a starting point, but be sure to seek specific, up-to-the-minute professional guidance tailored to your farm or business. (Posted 3/24/2020)  
  • (3/26/2020) To limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19.  Today the State Department took additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world. FAQ is linked here.
    • Authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.   
    • Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no potential ineligibility.
    • This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months (increased from 12 months), and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa. 
    • We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview. 
  • (4/01/2020) The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Foreign Labor Certification has released a Round 2 FAQ document regarding COVID-19 and H-2A workers. The FAQs address potential issues regarding the H-2A program.
  • (4/07/2020) Updated FAQ document on H-2A issues by CJ Lake, a Washington D.C. law firm specializing in employment law and business immigration.
  • (4/15/2020) In response to worker arrival delays due to the outbreak of COVID-19, DHS has amended the process for employing an H-2A worker already in the U.S. Additionally, DHS is allowing H-2A workers currently in the U.S. to stay beyond the three-year maximum period of stay. An H-2A petitioner with a valid temporary labor certification who is concerned that workers will be unable to enter the country due to travel restrictions can start employing certain foreign workers who are currently in H-2A status in the United States. Employment can begin immediately after United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives the H-2A petition, but no earlier than the start date of employment listed on the petition. 

Transportation 

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today announced a Notice of Enforcement Policy and Waiver regarding expiring driver’s licenses and medical examiner’s certificates – for drivers who had current credentials as of March 1 – allowing FMCSA to exercise its enforcement discretion to not take action in certain cases when a commercial learners’ permit, CDL or Medical Certificate is expired. the Notice of Enforcement Policy, effective from March 24, 2020 to June 30, 2020, provides needed relief from specified FMCSRs for CLP holders, CDL holders, and non-CDL drivers and motor carriers using those drivers. The FMCSA’s Waiver can be read HERE.
  • (5/14/2020) The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today published a final rule updating hours of service (HOS) rules to increase safety on America’s roadways by updating existing regulations for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.

Food Safety 

  • FDA announced that they will be focusing domestic inspections on mainly “for cause” and mission critical inspections (FDA is in the process of working with states to get alignment). Additionally, they will generally be pre-announcing inspections.  Bear in mind that the rules are still in full effect and you should continue operating as if FDA (or the state) could show up any day. (3/23/2020) 
  • (3/26/2020) FDA eases nutrition labeling on certain packaged foods during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • (3/27/2020) FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy Response posted commentary on the COVID-19 outbreak, with assurances that the food supply is safe. 
    • Assurance that the U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals. 
    • Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission 
    • FDA does not anticipate food products would need to be recalled or withdrawn from the market for reasons related to the outbreak, even if a person who works in a human or animal food facility is confirmed to be positive for the COVID-19 virus.
  • (3/27/2020) FDA responded to questions from the Assn of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO; representing state public health agencies) and FDA notes that no special precautions need to be taken for fresh produce in warehouses or on display/salad bars as a result of COVID-19 

Federal Stimulus Bills 

  1. President Trump declares national emergency. The action taken invites States, territories, and tribes to access over $42 billion in existing funding to combat the coronavirus. The Small Business Administration also has authority and available funding to make over $7 billion in loans to qualifying small businesses to assist economic recovery. (3/13/2020) 
  2. H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act (For employer impacts visit the Industry Resource Page under “Wage & Hour, Leaves Issues”)
    • Authorizes an emergency increase in SNAP benefits and provides $400 million in commodities and financial support to food banks 
    • Allows states to request approval from USDA to provide emergency benefits to existing SNAP households worth up to their maximum monthly allotment. 
    • Provides $500 million though the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the outbreak 
    • Places $400 million into The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to assist food banks. Of that amount, $300 million would be for purchases of food, with the remaining $100 million to cover storage and distribution costs.
  3. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), H.R. 748 
  4. Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, R. 266 (4/24/2020)
    • $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program
    • $60 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and grants, including
      • $50 billion for EIDL
      • $10 billion for grants up to $10,000 per business
    • $75 billion for hospitals and healthcare providers
    • $25 billion to expand testing
    • More information available on the Industry Resource Page under “Banking & Finance”

Livestock & Animal Health 

  • FDA announced that it intends to temporarily not enforce certain requirements in order to allow veterinarians to better utilize telemedicine to address animal health needs during the pandemic.
    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA generally does not intend to enforce the animal examination and premises visit portion of the VCPR requirements relevant to the FDA regulations governing Extralabel Drug Use in Animals and Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) drugs. Veterinarians still need to consider state VCPR requirements that may exist in their practice area. 

U.S. Forest Service 

  • U.S. Forest Service Region 5 has announced that all operations would be operating virtually in order to ensure social distancing.  It is recommended that USFS permittees contact USFS staff to set an annual meeting virtually prior to turnout. Visit FS Region 5 website to contact and updated information.
  • Prescribed Burning – On 3/20/2020 the U.S Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Office, covering all of California, announced that it is suspending all prescribed fire activities “until further notice” due to the COVID-19 outbreak to “prevent any effects from smoke that might further worsen conditions for those who are at risk in our communities, while reducing exposure for employees who might not otherwise need to travel, and creating social distancing for resources working on the fire.”
  • Contact information for Forest Service Region 5 is available as an Excel document HERE
  • USFS Region 5 has released supplemental guidance – Range Management and Grazing during USDA Forest Service COVID-19 Response.

American & California Farm Bureau Federal Action Items 

  • (3/19/20) Farm Bureau initiates letter with California Congressman Panetta to Secretary of State Pompeo concerning State Department’s processing of H-2A Visas.
  • H-2A workers must be available to the agricultural sector, either by designating this visa category as emergency or critical or through some other mechanism. Additionally, border states such as California are critically dependent on commuter workers who reside in Mexico but work in the U.S. We must assure that these workers remain available. 
  • The Federal government should automatically extend the length of H-2A visas; allow H-2A users to share workers among farms; provide interim temporary legal status to current farm workers (such as dairy workers) and their families; halt all deportations of agricultural workers; and provide dairy workers special means of assuring that they have work permits. Additionally, the program should consider temporarily relaxing other requirements (such as housing) that may temporarily be affected by requirements of public health policies (such as social distancing).
  • Commodity Credit Corporation: Congress must assure that the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) has ample authority to devise and implement any program that is designed to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers during this emergency.  If direct payments are considered, they should be available for all farmers and ranchers.
  • Emergency ReliefTo assist the agriculture sector in the 1980’s, USDA was authorized under emergency economic provisions to provide lending assistance to producers. This authority should be renewed so that USDA has the broadest possible latitude in providing a safety net to the agriculture sector. 
    • TradeThe United States should work aggressively with our trading partners to assure that critical trade relations remain intact to the greatest extent possible. Specifically: 
    • Livestock trade with Canada and Mexico must be maintained. 
    • Chemicals and other farm inputs from foreign nations should continue to flow so that farmers do not lose these critical components of agriculture production. This is affecting availability of fertilizer and other commodities. 
  • Agricultural Market Service (USDA) action needed: The decline in restaurant and school demand for food and dairy products may well result in lower demand and therefore processing capacity at some food production facilities. In special circumstances the Federal government should be actively engaged and work with companies to assure that farmers continue to have markets for their products, including but not limited to Section 32 food purchase and distribution programs.
  • (4/04/2020) Farm Bureau and 30 other agriculture organizations and businesses sent a letter to SBA asking it to issue clarifying guidance that agriculture enterprises are eligible to participate in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program
  • (4/04/2020) Farm Bureau and 30 other agriculture organizations and businesses sent a letter to SBA asking it to issue clarifying guidance that agriculture enterprises are eligible to participate in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program
  • Bipartisan Specialty Crop letter led by Rep. Panetta with funding requests from CFBF. The letter ended up receiving 108 Congressional members in support of our requests.
  • State Farm Bureau’s joint letter to Secretary Perdue concerning funding and relief for U.S. livestock industry.

 

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Industry Resources