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Sens. King, Collins join bipartisan effort to help Maine farmers amid coronavirus, COVID-19

Maine and N.H. Delegations also call on USDA to support dairy farmers facing economic crisis due to the COVID-19 crisis.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins have joined a bipartisan group of senators in sending letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging them to provide financial relief and direct payments to farmers who have suffered losses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act made $9.5 billion available for the USDA to provide for agriculture producers who are struggling because of the health crisis.

The first letter was sent to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The senators wrote, “the growth of the local food economy over the last decade has nurtured a diverse group of small and medium size producers who depend on direct markets to reach consumers… Unfortunately, these losses, compounded by increased sanitization and transportation expenses, threaten the survival of many of the farms that supply local food systems.”

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Some specialty crops gown in Maine include potatoes, blueberries, apples, and broccoli. The fresh produce industry has experienced $5 billion in losses from coronavirus, and additional losses are expected in the coming months.

The senators are requesting that for the 2020 crop year, the Farm Service Agency waive farm number requirements for local food producers and new farmers who currently do not have them. They also called on the USDA to establish a national hotline to manage incoming producer inquiries, simplify the application process, and make information about the program available in multiple languages.

The Senators urged the USDA to provide direct payments to eligible producers for lost revenue and increased production costs related to COVID-19. The senators also asked USDA to purchase specialty crops for redistribution to food banks, schools, and emergency feeding organizations.

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In a second letter to the USDA, the senators said, “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act established a $9.5 billion disaster fund and specifically included producers of specialty crops as eligible for assistance.  As USDA specifies how this assistance will be provided, we ask that you ensure that specialty crop producers receive assistance that is commensurate with the losses they are facing.”

In addition to Collins and King, the first letter was signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Gary Peters (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

In addition to Collins and King, the second letter was signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

In another call to the USDA, all eight members of the Maine and N.H. congressional delegations wrote to Secretary Perdue Friday, urging him to provide price stabilizing assistance to assist New England dairy farmers who are struggling with plummeting prices for milk products and increased costs due to the pandemic. 

The letter, signed by Maine Sens. Collins and King, N.H. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, as well as U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, Ann Kuster, Chris Pappas, and Jared Golden, reiterated concerns and priorities expressed in a letter recently sent to Secretary Perdue by New England state Departments of Agriculture, which was signed by Maine Commissioner Amanda Beal and New Hampshire Commissioner Shawn Jasper.

“At a time when the entire agricultural sector is facing economic harm and uncertainty, USDA should ensure that dairy farmers are provided with stabilizing assistance,” the delegations wrote. “These farmers are essential employees working hard to produce the milk and dairy products our country needs during this pandemic, and we must do everything we can to quickly deliver the support that they need.”

Specifically, the they requested that USDA work with Maine and New Hampshire’s agriculture commissioners to:

  • Provide direct payments to dairy farmers
  • Purchase additional dairy products for emergency distribution
  • Consider lowering the premium levels for Dairy Margin Coverage and allowing a buy up for farms that did register for the program at the end of 2019 if Congress makes it retroactive
  • Consider setting a floor price for dairy farms and dairy products, including butter, nonfat dry milk, cheddar blocks and barrels, dry whey

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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