October Policy Update

By, Patty Lovera, Policy Director

October 2020

Covid-19 Response

Another month has passed and there is still no clear sign when Congress will come to an agreement and pass a new bill on economic stimulus and response to the Covid-19 pandemic. On October 1st, for the second time, the House passed its own version of a stimulus/pandemic response bill. But the Senate has not yet passed its own bill. An attempt in the Senate to pass a “skinny” package with fewer programs failed on a procedural vote in early September.

There have been a lot of fits and starts, with conflicting announcements from the President, but the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans seem to be continuing. The major sticking points are aid to state and local governments, unemployment assistance, and a proposal to provide businesses with immunity from lawsuits by workers or customers. The bills that have been introduced so far would provide more funding for USDA to make direct payments to farms and processors that were impacted by the pandemic, with fairly vague instructions that give a lot of discretion to USDA on how to set up payment programs.

The USDA is still running the two main programs established by the CARES Act that Congress passed earlier this year. On September 21st, the USDA started accepting applications for the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which is the program to give direct payments to farms impacted by the pandemic. This round has different rules for which crops and farms are eligible for payments, which are an improvement over the first round (which did not really address the needs of most organic farmers.) We have more detail on the second round of CFAP here. The application period ends on December 11th. Even if the first round did not make sense for your farm, it may be worth it to check out the new requirements to see if this new round is a better fit.

Organic Certification Cost-Share

Unfortunately, there is no good news to report on raising the reimbursement levels for organic certification cost-share. On August 10th, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that funds were being released for the annual organic certification cost-share program, and that due to an unexpected shortfall in funding they were lowering the reimbursement rate to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This is reduced from a rate of 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope in previous years (and the level that was specified for this program in the last Farm Bill.)

OFA worked with National Organic Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other allies get a better explanation from the FSA about why this program unexpectedly came up short in funding. Now we are working to educate members of Congress on the need to boost the program’s funding so that reimbursement levels can be restored. Congress’ failure to pass new spending bills on time (the new fiscal year for the federal government started on October 1st) means that the federal government is currently running under an extension of last year’s budget. This makes it more complicated to quickly get Congress to provide more funding for the cost-share program. But we are going to keep working to try to get the reimbursement level restored. In the meantime, it does help for members of Congress to hear from organic farmers about why the cost share program is important. You can find out how to take action on cost-share here.

National Organic Standards Board Fall Meeting

The fall NOSB meeting will be held online, spread out over several days. The public comment sessions will be from noon until 5:00 eastern on October 20 and 22, and the NOSB meeting will be from noon until 5:00 eastern on October 28, 29 and 30th.

You can get information about how to register to watch the meeting online on the USDA’s website for this meeting.

You can see the full agenda for the meeting on the USDA’s website and read more about the proposals the NOSB will vote on at the meeting here. One piece of the agenda that might be of interest to those who are following the issue of enforcement and organic imports is a guest speaker from Customs and Border Protection, scheduled for the first day of the meeting (Wednesday October 28) at 12:30 eastern.