By Alex Gangitano – 05/27/20 12:55 PM EDT
© Greg Nash
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, introduced a bill on Wednesday to protect the food supply that has been disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Food Supply Protection Act would provide infrastructure grants for food banks and nonprofits to be able to increase their capacity through additional cold storage, transportation, personal protective equipment and rental costs.
It would also provide grants and reimbursements so excess food can be purchased to increase donations to food banks, schools and nonprofits.
Loans and loan guarantees would be implemented to protect workers and retool small and medium food processors. In addition, funds could be used for upgrades to machinery, temporary cold storage, purchasing personal protective equipment and test kits and cleaning.
Coronavirus outbreaks at food processing plants have prompted closures and led to shortages at grocery stores and fast food chains across the country. More than 11,000 cases of COVID-19 have been tied to Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS plants and at last 63 workers have died. Farmers and producers are also being forced to depopulate livestock while restaurants, schools and other venues are closed during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 crisis has tested the strength of our nation’s food supply chain, creating a ripple effect that’s harming our families, farmers and workers,” Stabenow said in a press release. “This bill will help strengthen our food supply by redirecting food to families and helping farmers and processors retool their operations.”
Celebrity chef José Andrés supports the bill as well as trade groups and food organizations including the National Farmers Union, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Milk Producers Association, United Fresh and the United Farm Workers Foundation.
Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have co-sponsored the bill.