In a bipartisan effort to support Maine farmers during the ongoing pandemic, U.S. Senator Susan Collins and U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reiterate priorities for implementing the assistance to farmers that Congress provided through the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Senator Collins and Congresswoman Pingree emphasized the need for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to provide assistance directly to growers as well as support local producers and their supply chains.
“The shutdown of the food service network – including restaurants, schools, and hospitality businesses – has caused enormous economic harm to Maine's small- and medium-sized farms, especially for dairy farmers and for growers of specialty crops such as potatoes, blueberries, and apples,” Senator Collins and Congresswoman Pingree wrote. “Our farmers are essential and are the backbone of the economy of many rural communities. USDA must work quickly and collaboratively to ensure that small- and medium-sized farms are able to survive this unexpected downturn while helping to meet the food security needs of American families.”
In their letter, Senator Collins and Congresswoman Pingree urged USDA to:
- Provide targeted farmer payments, which are essential for Maine’s specialty crop growers who have suffered acutely from recent international trade disputes and received almost zero direct benefit from the Administration’s multiple disbursements of agricultural aid.
- Implement the components of CFAP focused on purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat products for redistribution to food banks, school nutrition programs, and emergency feeding organizations, which will help alleviate food insecurity for families and support local producers by reducing inventory and stabilizing prices.
- Collaborate with Maine’s invaluable anti-hunger organizations and distribution companies to implement the CFAP, which could also have a positive impact on the currently slowed food service distribution industry.
- Allow broad flexibility on the types of quantities of products deemed eligible for assistance under the CFAP—such as whole milk, butter, cottage cheese, and yogurts—which might not be permitted for USDA nutrition assistance programs under in normal circumstances.
Along with the entire Maine Delegation, Senator Collins and Congresswoman Pingree have led efforts to assist Maine farmers, including calling on USDA to support dairy farmers, support potato farmers, support specialty crop growers, and support local food producers and new farmers.
On March 16, Pingree wrote to Speaker Pelosi detailing the impact of COVID-19 on local and regional markets and urging the Speaker to provide emergency disaster payments to farmers selling fresh, local, and minimally processed foods in community markets. On April 3, Pingree and 67 bipartisan members of Congress wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to provide swift relief for local food producers whose markets have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Pingree is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ and Congresswoman Pingree’s letter.