With the Coronavirus pandemic disrupting operations for businesses, including agribusinesses, government and industry have developed new resources to support business owners and their employees. Below is a resource list, including information on available aid, state and federal requirements for employers, resources for hiring H-2A workers, and workplace safety information.
Resources for Agricultural Employers & their Employees
SBA Paycheck Protection Program
On Monday, April 6, 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which offers loans for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities and if all employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks. The program is open to all agribusinesses, as long as size standards are met.
Essential Worker Movement
Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-91 limits movements and personal interactions outside of the home for all Floridians to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities, beginning April 3, 2020. To assist agribusiness employees and owners in documenting their work as an essential service, FDACS has provided an Essential Service Movement Letter template that agribusinesses and other essential employers may use.
FDACS strongly cautions farmers about the risks of bringing people onto their farms. The agritourism waiver of general liability still applies, but there may be added risks during this time. They shared that social gatherings of more than 10 people are not essential activities. If you have questions, please contact Steven Hall, FDACS General Counsel (GeneralCounsel@FDACS.gov).
Employer-Provided Paid Leave Requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain public employers and private employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Please note small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption. Each covered employer must post in a conspicuous place on its premises a notice of FFCRA requirements. If employees are working remotely, the posters should be sent to them in emails. Posters in Spanish and English are available for download/printing. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020.
Census Vital to Florida Communities in Obtaining/Retaining Funding
Governor DeSantis is asking for all Floridians to be counted in the US Census by phone, mail or online. Please complete your census forms today, if you have not already, and encourage your co-workers and employees to do the same. You can find promotional brochures and posters here.
The CARES Act provides help for businesses, including agribusinesses. More information will be forthcoming, but there is already a good amount available on the US Treasury website.
Farming Through COVID-19 Webinar from DTN
Managing labor and employee issues during the pandemic. Recorded March 26, 2020 and available for free viewing; no registration required.
American Farmland Trust Farmer Relief Fund
To help directly support farmers impacted by the current crisis, American Farmland Trust is launching a new Farmer Relief Fund. The fund will award farmers with cash grants of up to $1,000 each to help them weather the current storm of market disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis.
USDA is taking steps to help farmers connect with H-2A workers amid COVID-19. Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview. Also, USDA and DOL have compiled a list of nearly 20,000 H-2A and H-2B certified positions that will be expiring soon; the workers leaving those positions could be available to transfer to a different employer. Prospective employers can use the data to reach out to current employers with expiring contracts. The information is intended as a resource to H-2A employers whose workforce has been delayed because of travel restrictions or visa processing limitations.
Federal & State Agricultural Agency Updates
FDACS is taking a number of actions to protect and promote Florida agriculture, including:
– Gathering a supply inventory and reaching out to buyers to connect them with supply;
– Connecting with institutional buyers to bring in more Florida produce; and
– Diverting funds to expand marketing of Florida produce, especially critical commodities.
To be included in the supply inventory as a state of Florida vendor, FDACS shared that farmers and other suppliers must register on MyFlorida Marketplace.
Farm Service Agency Updates
Access to services, relaxed loan-making, and flexible loan servicing
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices are open in Florida by phone appointment only until further notice, and FSA staff are available to continue helping agricultural producers with program signups, loan servicing and other important actions. Additionally, FSA is relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.
FSA encourages producers to contact their county office to discuss these programs and temporary changes to farm loan deadlines and the loan servicing options available. For Service Center contact information, visit farmers.gov/coronavirus.
USDA Rural Development COVID-19 Resource Page
USDA Rural Development has launched a COVID-19 resource page to keep customers, partners, and stakeholders continuously updated on actions taken by the Agency to help rural residents, businesses, and communities impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit www.rd.usda.gov/coronavirus for information on Rural Development loan payment assistance, application deadline extensions, and more.