USDA to supply $700M in grants to meatpackers, farm staff impacted by COVID-19

Dive Transient:

  • The USDA will present $700 million in grants to assist farm and meatpacking staff with pandemic-related well being and security prices. The division mentioned it might put aside $20 million of this funding for not less than one pilot program to supply help to frontline grocery staff.  
  • USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack advised reporters staff can be eligible to obtain as much as $600 every to assist them cowl prices they incurred through the pandemic. These embody paying for masks or private protecting tools out of pocket, unpaid medical go away, childcare, or as a result of the person or a member of the family turned sick. 
  • State businesses, tribal entities, and sure nonprofit organizations will likely be eligible to use for grants from this program, with the cash then being distributed to staff. Vilsack mentioned it might take as a lot as two years for all the cash to be doled out.

Dive Perception:

The meat business was among the many sectors most closely impacted from COVID-19 through the first a number of months of the outbreak final yr. Unions, activists, staff and relations criticized the meat business for ready too lengthy to place further security measures in place. 

The grant program introduced by the USDA was touted by the United Meals and Business Staff Worldwide Union, which represents 1.3 million workers in meatpacking crops, grocery shops, and different frontline industries, as a long-awaited transfer towards serving to its members.

“This can be a sturdy step towards offering them with the help that they and their households want as they proceed to serve our communities in supermarkets nationwide and meatpacking crops regardless of the continuing COVID well being dangers that they face,” UFCW Worldwide President Marc Perrone advised reporters. “However rather more have to be executed in help of all meatpacking and grocery staff nationwide.”

In June, meat packers have been among the many job sectors that did not safe safety with a brand new Occupational Security and Well being Administration COVID-19 security rule. The regulatory company didn’t embody the sector in an emergency non permanent customary that required employers in high-risk industries equivalent to healthcare to supply sure employee protections from COVID-19. 

UFCW estimated greater than 22,000 meatpacking staff have been contaminated or uncovered, with not less than 132 dying from the coronavirus.

The animal slaughtering and processing business employs greater than 515,000 people, in line with the North American Meat Institute, citing Labor Division statistics. The information exhibits greater than 330,000 of these work in manufacturing occupations, equivalent to manufacturing line supervisors and working staff, meals processing staff, and butchers and meat cutters.

Vilsack acknowledged whereas the pandemic has positioned these and different frontline staff at a bodily threat, the virus’ influence on their funds should not be ignored.

“The objective right here is to attempt to present as many of those staff as potential $600 in funds. We will see how far we will stretch this $700 million,” the previous Iowa governor mentioned. “That is, I believe, a mirrored image of the important nature of the work that they carried out through the course of pandemic.” 

The grants might present a lift to a meat and poultry business that, just like different segments of the U.S. financial system, is being impacted by a scarcity of staff. 

Meat and poultry processing is a difficult and bodily demanding job. Staff in some circumstances are required to carry out the identical process again and again, or work with equipment, each of which might be harmful, Chad Hart, an Iowa State College agricultural economist, advised Meals Dive in June. Vegetation usually are typically positioned in rural areas near the place the animals are raised, rising the problem for firms to draw and hold staff, he mentioned. 

The challenges have been amplified as some persons are afraid to enter the workforce over fears of getting COVID-19. Economists additionally level out that latest stimulus checks and unemployment have supplied staff with a disincentive to get a job. 

In an effort to retain and appeal to staff, the meat business has elevated wages, bonuses and different advantages. 

The funding from USDA might present an incentive for staff to remain in meatpacking jobs by giving them a much-needed monetary increase. This additionally could possibly be a giant win for a meat and poultry business struggling to maintain up with rising shopper demand for protein and an inflow of tourists to eating places. The typical American will eat about 222.5 kilos of purple meat and poultry in 2021, in line with a USDA report launched in August, in comparison with 204.6 kilos a decade in the past.

Individually, the USDA mentioned will probably be saying a $700 million suite of pandemic security and response grants for producers, processors, farmers markets, distributors, and seafood processors and vessels impacted by COVID-19.

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