Outsider Aid: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is instating a $700 million aid program to help farm and meat industry workers through the continuing pandemic.
This week brings excellent news for America’s invaluable farmers and meatpacking workers. Both industries have been crippled by the COVID-19 Pandemic, but will now receive aid under a new incentive from the Biden Administration’s U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Specifically, farm and meat industry workers will be eligible for grants of up to $600 per person. Government officials say they hope to make up for some of the unpaid leave and/or protective equipment their industries require. When put into perspective, however, $600 feels like too little too late.
“While the rest of America could work from home, these brave men and women continued to show up for work every single day to ensure that we all food on our tables that we could eat,” says the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union Marc Perrone. “Meatpacking plants experienced some of the most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks when the pandemic first came around and there were workers that are deserving of our help, and our thanks and our support.”
Perrone is correct. The COVID pandemic ravaged both farms and the meatpacking industry. Right here north of Nashville, TN, the largest cluster of COVID cases and deaths comes from our Tyson plant in Goodlettsville.
In fact, meatpacking plants would serve as outbreak points for the virus throughout 2020 and continue to today. Inside factories, workers stand directly beside one another. This hasn’t changed. As a result, the UFCW union (who represents the majority of America’s meat industry workers) says no less than 132 meatpacking workers died of COVID-19. Another 22,000 have been exposed, infected, or now have lifelong debilitations from the sickness.
Farm and Meat Industry Workers Finally Recognized as ‘Essential’
Last year, as America’s meat production dropped off a cliff (60% of median output), the country at large finally got a sense of how essential our farm and meat industry workers are; something we should’ve known all along.
“I think it’s important that we recognize that doing this essential work has also come not only at a potential physical risk but also at a financial risk,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoes via Yahoo News.
Vilsack now recognizes that “Many of these workers have had to out of their pocket pay for masks or personal protective equipment during the course of this pandemic.”
Even more damaging, however, is that “some have had to take unpaid medical leave,” he says.
But how will farm and meat industry workers receive these grants? According to the Ag. Dept., an assortment of nonprofit groups working with the government will distribute. Sec. Vilsack cites the decision as a way to keep costs and requirements to apply “to a minimum.” This way, more workers will receive aid.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to provide as much help to as many people as possible,” he adds. Sec. Vilsack says an additional $700 million in aid is to follow from the USDA. This program, too, will be for farm workers and food processors. It will also extend to farmers’ markets, distributors, and food vendors.