September 23, 2020
With the legislature set to adjourn for the year on or before this Friday, September 25th, we are closely tracking our legislative priorities and not letting up until the final votes are cast.
Ag & Working Lands Assistance Eligibility
Eligibility criteria established through various bills during the initial legislative session this year limited businesses from accessing certain COVID-19 agriculture and working lands assistance funds if they a) had a net business profit between March 1 and August 1, and 2) did not have at least one W2 employee. Given that many farmers and other working lands businesses are sole proprietorships without W2 employees, and that this period for many businesses is their most profitable time of year, NOFA-VT and other farm and food producer associations have advocated that the legislature remove these criteria and extend the deadline for the Agriculture & Working Lands Assistance Program to allow more businesses to apply.
The budget bill, which has now passed both the House and Senate and now proceeds to a conference committee, contains provisions that would remove these criteria and extend the deadline for applications from October 1 to November 15, to ensure as many of the dollars allocated to farm, food, and forestry businesses reach their intended recipients prior to the final deadline of December 20. These changes are not yet final. When the budget bill passes, we will send a final update on the status of these fixes.
In addition to the problematic criteria mentioned above, S.351 (the bill that established relief funding for several categories of farm and forestry businesses) included a provision that set a minimum gross sales threshold of $10,000 for businesses and producer organizations to access funds. This provision inadvertently excluded the majority of the state's farmers markets, who operate on very small budgets and often have less than $10,000 in revenues in a given year. NOFA-VT advocated successfully to have this barrier removed to allow small farmers markets to access relief funds. In addressing this eligibility issue, the legislature added a provision that would allow the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets to use funds from the agriculture assistance programs to provide grants of up to $2,000 to farmers markets who have gross sales under $10,000. Our hope is that in addition to setting aside these funds for farmers markets, AAFM will also create a separate, simplified application for farmers markets to use so they don't need to go through the more complicated application being used for farms and forestry businesses. As with the changes above, we don't have final assurance that this program will be created and we will send updates as they become available.
Immigrant Families Relief Fund
Both the House and Senate version of the "big bill" (legislat-ese for the must-pass spending bill moving through the legislature this week) include $5 million in funding for the Vermont Coronavirus Economic Stimilus Equity Program. This fund, which we believe in all likelihood will pass, will provide stimulus payments to immigrant Vermonters and their families equivalent to those provided to U.S. citizens earlier this year. NOFA-VT has been working closely with a coalition led by Migrant Justice since late April to advocate for this fund to be established, and for payments to match those provided to U.S. citizens. With the legislature just days away from adjourning for the year, it appears extremely likely that the fund will be approved and fully funded by the legislature. We aren't ready to celebrate quite yet, but we're hopeful that we'll be able to share a final positive update with you soon!
Farm Relief Bill Passes Vermont House and Senate
(Updated June 30, 2020)
S.351, the legislature's farm relief bill, has passed both chambers of the legislature and is awaiting the Governor's signature. It includes the following allocations for farms and other businesses that have suffered economic harm due to COVID-19:
- $21.2 million for dairy farmers (with grants ranging from $18,300 to $100,000)
- $3.8 million for dairy processors (with grants ranging from $31,000 to $60,000)
- $5 million for non-dairy farms, processors, slaughterhouses, and farmers markets (with grants ranging from $2,500 to $20,000)
- $5 million for forestry businesses
- $500,000 for agricultural fairs
- $192,000 for the VHCB Farm & Forest Viability Program
Details of the process for farmers to apply for these funds are still being determined, but here's what we do know:
- S.351 specifies that the Dairy Assistance Program will be administered by the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (AAFM). To assist in expediting the application process, dairy operations are asked to complete and send a W-9 tax form by mail to the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets at 116 State St. Montpelier, VT 05620. Dairy farmers are asked to reach out with any questions to [email protected] or 802-828-5667.
- S.351 also specifies that the Non-Dairy Agricultural Producer and Processor Assistance Program and the Forest Economy Stabilization Grant Program will be administered through an MOU with the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA).
- We will be keeping close tabs on the roll-out of these programs to ensure they are meeting the needs of Vermont's diverse farmers and food producers, and that our agricultural community has the information necessary to access relief in these trying times.
NOFA-VT COVID-19 Policy Priorities
Recommendations for State Relief for Farmers, Farm Workers, and Systemic Change
(Updated May 26, 2020)
As the Senate Agriculture Committee develops a proposal to distribute relief funds to the farming community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, NOFA-VT has been providing input and testimony to ensure that relief reaches those who need it most.
On May 11, NOFA-VT sent a letter to the committee detailing our top recommendations for relief efforts put forward by the state to support farmers, farm workers, and Vermonters facing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. In it, we wrote, "We want to ensure that any relief efforts the committee brings forward are based first and foremost in the principles of equity and justice, and with the goal of moving Vermont towards a just, green, and thriving future on the other side of this pandemic. Relief efforts should support the long-term health and revitalization of Vermont’s agricultural economy, and ensure that all Vermonters have access to nutritious, locally produced food."
Our top five recommendations include:
- Create a Vermont Coronavirus Relief Fund to administer direct payments to immigrant and migrant farmworkers, and others who have been excluded from federal stimulus efforts.
- Invest in programs that support Vermont farmers and access to nutritious food for Vermonters in need, including Vermonters Feeding Vermonters, Farm Share, and Crop Cash.
Read the 5/21/20 letter to the Senate Ag Committee on this issue »
- Provide financial assistance to Vermont farms of all types suffering from lost markets, and resilience grants to allow them to expand and adapt.
- Set short and long-term targets for local food purchasing through schools and other state funded institutions.
- Create several dedicated funding streams to support the diversification of Vermont’s agriculture economy for a more resilient future. This includes transition of dairy farms to other enterprises or new ownership.
Citizenship & Protections for Essential Farmworkers
(Updated May 26, 2020)
Farmworkers have been deemed "essential" by the government under the threat of COVID-19. We at NOFA-VT advocate for any "essential" worker to have a viable path to citizenship articulated immediately, and to receive the same protections and benefits that are outlined for current U.S. citizens within the stimulus bills. This initiative is imperative for our food system to be just. Contact your representatives about supporting relief for these essential workers!
In addition, we are supporting the following initiatives:
- Hazard pay for all essential workers
- Enforceable health and safety standards
- Income and benefits for undocumented and informal workers
Support for Organic Dairy Farmers
(Updated May 26, 2020)
How can we support the organic dairy farmers who sell their milk wholesale? Find out here
NOFA-VT's Federal COVID-19 Relief Recommendations
(Updated March 24, 2020)
In addition to the policy recommendations detailed in the sections below, NOFA-VT is working in coalition with national partners including the National Organic Coalition, Organic Farmers Association, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to ensure support for Vermont's farmers and equitable access to food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We appreciate the critical changes made to SNAP in HR. 6201 as part of the recent CR. In addition, we recommend the following changes be made in the next round of federal response to COVID-19.
- Loosen the restrictions on SNAP eligible foods to allow SNAP recipients to purchase hot meals using their benefits.
- FNS should rush SNAP retailer applications. It is critical that as many farms and markets as possible can accept SNAP now. Right now, the application can take up to 45 days! Starting in April the state will be providing free EBT machines for farms/markets so the delay will be in the SNAP authorization.
- Accelerate the pilot program authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill to allow for online SNAP purchasing so that other e-commerce platforms may process EBT payments and so farmers and farmers markets can still serve SNAP communities through online sales.
Farm Share & Crop Cash
We are requesting $50,000 in additional funding to support subsidized CSA shares through NOFA-VT Farm Share Program, and Crop Cash, which doubles 3SquaresVT benefits spent at farmers markets. These programs provide necessary access to fresh, local food for limited income Vermonters, while ensuring direct market rates to farmers.
- Farm Share Program: We’ve heard from many farmers who are increasing their focus on CSAs this year in light of restaurant and farmers market closures. CSAs represent a win-win by providing up front income farmers need in the spring, a financially critical time of year, and allowing participants to access the freshest possible food. The Farm Share Program allows limited income Vermonters to benefit by subsidizing shares at participating farms. We are already hearing from farmers that they’re seeing an increase in CSA sign-ups, and we are anticipating a spike in Farm Share applications for this summer due to financial hardships from COVID-19.
- Crop Cash: While some farmers markets have closed in response to the administration's directive to limit large gatherings, we are advocating to ensure that farmers markets are considered essential services, like grocery stores, and allowed to remain open so they can continue to serve their communities during this time of great need. An increase in funding for Crop Cash, which doubles the value of 3SquaresVT benefits when spent at farmers markets, will allow us to improve access to the freshest fruit and vegetables in response to ongoing food access challenges.
Vermonters Feeding Vermonters
- Provide $1 million in increased funding to the “Vermonters Feeding Vermonters" program. Vermonters Feeding Vermonters is a program through which Vermont Foodbank purchases food directly from local farms. Increasing funding for this program would have dual benefits of allowing the Foodbank to purchase more fruits and vegetables from Vermont farmers (many of whom are facing substantial losses due to disruptions in their wholesale or direct markets), and making more locally produced fresh and frozen food available to folks in need.
- Clarification from the CDC that farmers markets are essential public services as tens of thousands of farmers and millions of consumers rely on them for their livelihood and food access.
- Inclusion of direct to consumer farmers and farmers markets in the small business COVID19 relief package currently being negotiated in Congress
- Extension of the deadline (current deadline is May 11) and waiving of match requirements for the current Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program grant Request for Applications.
- Ensure that direct payments to farmers (not just loans) are included in the next federal stimulus or relief package. Many small and mid-sized farms, limited resource farms, and farms operated by farmers of color are not well served by existing crop insurance or revenue programs designed for commodity growers and were left out of past Market Facilitation Program payments. It is vital that any legislation considered to address the farm and food sector include specific provisions to assist these producers.
- Provide funds for farms quickly moving to set up "on-farm" stands, curbside pickup and other direct to consumer "no-touch" distribution channels that minimize interaction as many farmers markets are closed. Even if allowed to stay open, markets in Vermont may remain limited, attendance may be reduced, or farmers may feel unsafe vending at farmers markets.
- Disaster payments should cover both crops not harvested or sold, as well as those that can move to emergency food needs; organic should be paid for at the organic price.
Farmers & Farm Workers are Essential
- Ensure that farms, nurseries, farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs are deemed essential services and have the same status as retail stores when it comes to social gathering and loss of income. Specifically, at the state level, we need a clear list of who/what are considered essential workers/services. DHS guidance released on 3/19 includes food and agriculture in its list of essential infrastructure. At the state level, where this guidance is implemented, we want to ensure that farmers, farm workers, and all those working in food production and other parts of the supply chain are deemed “essential” for the purposes of:
- limitations to social gathering,
- limitations to travel,
- paid sick leave,
- health coverage,
- workmen’s compensation, and
- access to childcare.
This should also include agricultural products suppliers. We are concerned, for example, that variable implementation of CDC/DHS guidance across different states may impact farmers’ access to necessary supplies that are produced in other states. (E.g. greenhouse plastic produced in Ohio that is needed by Vermont farmers.)
- Farm workers who are currently employed on a farm should receive the same payments as any other workers and be considered “essential” with regard to the aforementioned purposes without questions about their status as citizens.
- In order to ensure uninterrupted food, crop, and commodity production, we urge the federal government to recognize all H-2A, and any other non-immigrant visa petition involving an agricultural worker, visa consular processing functions as “essential” and direct the U.S. Consulates to treat all agricultural worker appointments as emergency visa services.
- Establish a national program to provide relief workers for sick farmers.
- Expand farmers' access to credit and offer debt flexibility to ensure they can plant, grow, and harvest the food that we need this year.
Support for Certified Organic Operations & Certifiers
- Increase certification cost-share assistance for certified organic farms and handlers and provide immediate payment to organic operations.
- Provide technical assistance to organic operations to make sure they can maintain their certifications during the pandemic by providing required records to certification agencies through virtual platforms.
Guidance for Vermont Farms & Agricultural Businesses
Guidance for Greenhouse & Nursery Growers
(Updated April 27, 2020)
Updated guidance was released on Friday, April 24 that allows for in-person purchases of seeds, plant starts, and other materials essential for gardening. The full guidance can be found on the Agency of Agriculture's website here. NOFA-VT believes the ability to grow one's own food is central to food security and food sovereignty, and we're grateful for updated guidelines that expand access to necessary supplies during this time of need.
Farmers Market Update & Guidance
COVID-19 Support & Resources for Farmers Markets
(Updated May 6, 2020)
On Friday, April 24th, the Agency of Agriculture, the Department of Health and the Agency of Commerce & Community Development released updated guidelines for farmers markets that largely reflect those put forward by NOFA-VT, and - critically - support access to local food for customers using 3SquaresVT/SNAP benefits. We have continuously advocated for the safe operation of farmers markets during the COVID-19 crisis, and we are grateful to the administration for putting out clear guidance that will meet the needs of community members and support farmers during this critical time of year.
VT Agency of Agriculture Farmers Market Guidance
Stay up to date with Farmers Market Coalition COVID-19 updates and announcements
Farmers Markets Respond to COVID-19 — National Best Practices, Examples, and Resources
Follow the national farmers market conversation - subscribe to Farmers Market Coalition's listserv
Handwashing and sanitizer resources for farmers markets - please submit additional resources to [email protected]
QUESTIONS? CONTACT JENNIE PORTER AT [email protected] OR CALL (802) 434-7165.
Questions about any of the information above? Contact Maddie Kempner, Policy Director, (802) 434-7157