The devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic has never been clearer.
So, what did the “skinny” COVID-19 bill proposed last week by Senate Republicans do to address hunger, worker safety and the fate of small family farms?
No new funds to address hunger.
No new funds or resources to protect food and farm workers.
In fact, the “skinny” bill would actually have accelerated the demise of family farms by providing $20 billion in virtually unlimited subsidies to the largest and most successful farm businesses.
The proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t pass. But the contrast with the HEROES Act passed in May by the Democratic-led House was stark.
The House bill would increase the standard benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by 15 percent and raise the minimum SNAP benefit to $30 monthly. The House bill would also increase by $1.1 billion the extra SNAP funds for women, infants and children to help low-income mothers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
The HEROES Act would also protect food and farm workers by directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency standard requiring employers to provide personal protective equipment, and safe housing and transportation. The bill would also provide new resources to protect food and farm workers, including $25 million for migrant farm workers.
There’s a lot at stake.
According to data collected by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, almost 60,000 food system workers – 42,567 meatpacking workers, 9,451 food processing workers and 7,061 farmworkers – have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 252 food system workers have died.
Many farmers are struggling. Prices for many farm products have fallen as President Trump’s trade war has closed important markets. Labor shortages have been compounded by the spread of COVID-19 among farmworkers.
Nearly 30 million adults reported that members of their households did not have enough to eat during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s not too late, but time is running out to help the hungry and those who help keep us fed.