From by  Susan Chambers

June 16, 2021

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has increased costs to seafood processors during the pandemic but the USDA wants to help cut those costs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday additional aid to agricultural producers and businesses as part of the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative.

Earlier this year, Secretary Vilsack announced plans to use available pandemic assistance funds to address a number of gaps and disparities in previous rounds of aid. As part of the Pandemic Assistance initiative announced in March, USDA pledged to continue Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments and to provide aid to producers and businesses left behind. Implementation of the assistance announced today will continue within 60 days to include support to timber harvesters, biofuels, dairy farmers and processors, livestock farmers and contract growers of poultry, assistance for organic cost share, and grants for PPE.

That means potentially millions of dollars worth of PPE funding for seafood processors. Already, changes to seafood processing to account for social distancing during the pandemic and the increased use of protective gear have cost some processors hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

“USDA is honoring its commitment to get financial assistance to producers and critical agricultural businesses, especially those left out or underserved by previous COVID aid,” Secretary Vilsack said in a press release. “These investments through USDA Pandemic Assistance will help our food, agriculture and forestry sectors get back on track and plan for the future. Since January, USDA has provided more than $11 billion of assistance directly to producers and food and agriculture business.”

In March, USDA announced $6 billion in available funds through Pandemic Assistance Part 1 to support a number of new programs or to modify existing efforts. Part 1 funding would primarily help family-owned timber businesses, biofuel producers, the dairy industry and poultry and livestock producers. However, $700 million in Pandemic Response and Safety Grants will be available for PPE and other protective measures to help specialty crop growers, meat packers and processors and seafood industry workers, the USDA said.

The funding is planned for implementation within 60 days, and will continue to be focused on filling gaps in previous rounds of assistance and helping beginning, socially disadvantaged and small and medium sized producers that need support most.

The funding associated with USDA Pandemic Assistance is meant to serve as a bridge from disruptions associated with the pandemic to longer-term investments to help build back a better food system, the agency said. Through USDA’s Build Back Better initiative, USDA has already announced $5 billion in a mix of loans, grants and innovative financing to make meaningful investments to build a food system that is more resilient against shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds.

“As the economy continues to bounce back, USDA will ensure American agriculture is ready to seize the moment,” Vilsack said in the statement.

This latest round of assistance follows USDA’s May announcement to purchase up to $70.9 million worth of seafood products through the Agricultural Marketing Service.