As Congress attempted to navigate the national response to COVID-19 by passing three coronavirus response packages in March, all of which became law, NMPF’s government affairs team worked to ensure dairy-farmer needs were top of mind in agriculture-related provisions of the new laws, gaining success on several fronts.
A crucial advance came with the March 27 passage of a massive, $2 trillion stimulus bill approved on March 27 that creates a $9.5 billion coronavirus agricultural disaster fund that specifically includes dairy among the producers targeted for aid. The bill also provides $14 billion in additional funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation that USDA can use to assist producers in various ways. Finally, the measure aids small businesses, a key link in the entire dairy supply chain.
“We are very grateful that Congress understands the significant economic challenges our farmers face and is rising to that challenge on a bipartisan basis,” Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, said of the package, the third – but not the last – congressional coronavirus bill. “Dairy farmers have worked 24/7 to produce safe, affordable, and nutritious products for families throughout the coronavirus crisis, even as their own economic outlook grows darker.”
The specific attention to dairy – thanks in large part to the bipartisan attention from lawmakers ranging from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, to Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and Representative Glenn “GT” Thompson – was encouraged and aided by the work of NMPF government relations staffers Paul Bleiberg and Claudia Larson, who coordinated with other NMPF staff and across the dairy community to work with lawmakers on dairy’s behalf.
With Washington policymakers working around the clock, many from home, “it’s kind of like, what day is a weekend, what day is a weekday. But we’ve been having many conversations on Capitol Hill, on the House side, on the Senate side, folks in USDA,” said Bleiberg, NMPF’s vice president for government relations, in an NMPF podcast. “And of course, with our own membership, because everybody is worried about the situation, everybody wants to know what’s going to happen here because people have to get answers.”
Beyond the main stimulus bill, the second coronavirus package that passed Congress included additional funding and flexibility for nutrition programs — specifically, an additional $1.2 billion for nutrition programs. It also allows states and USDA to waive administrative requirements for SNAP and WIC as well as group-setting meal requirements for school meal and adult and childcare meal programs. The first aid plan was relatively smaller and did not address agriculture.
The NMPF government affairs team continues to work closely with both chambers of Congress and USDA, encouraging additional actions that help ensure dairy producers and workers continue to feed Americans without interruption and that families facing food insecurity have access to nutritious food, including the healthy milk many have access to most readily through nutrition programs. It’s also closely coordinating with government affairs staff from other cooperatives and dairy organizations and actively seeking feedback and ideas from members, including by leading a conference call with NMPF communications staff that included cooperative government relations and communications representatives.
NMPF will continue its multi-front approach to best address dairy’s needs and looks forward to working with Congress and the Trump Administration on additional responses anticipated in coming weeks.