Peterson: Congress must provide COVID-19 tests for food, ag workers |

Peterson: Congress must provide COVID-19 tests for food, ag workers


“In the absence of leadership from the White House,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and key colleagues said Monday, “Congress needs to provide $250 billion in the next coronavirus aid bill for COVID-19 testing for frontline food and agriculture groups as well as all frontline healthcare professionals, first responders and the seniors and communities of color that are so disproportionately impacted by this disease.”

Peterson, House Agriculture General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Chairman Filemon Vela Jr., D-Texas; House Agriculture Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa, D-Calif.; and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., said in a statement, “The four of us know these men and women well.”

“We had the great opportunity to serve with one another on the House Agriculture Committee in the last Congress. Together we represent districts that cover the depth and breadth of our country’s agriculture, from the hogs and dairies and row-crop farms of western Minnesota and the citrus and cattle in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley; to the almonds and cheese and galaxy of fruits and vegetables of central California and the poultry and melons and sweet corn in Delaware.

“These farms and the food supply chains that begin at their gates are struggling right now. Frankly, they were in pain before the pandemic, faced with volatile markets, depressed demand, once-in-a-generation bankruptcies, regulatory challenges, and economic distress that cost rural towns more and more businesses like restaurants and grocery stores.

“The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation. Farmers now have to deal with uncertain supply chains amid a health crisis that threatens both their health and their financial well-being, and displaces thousands of hard-working people who pick, process and produce food.

“And while there are legitimate concerns on the part of consumers about shortages in our grocery stores, we have to remember that the men and women who make our food chain go are also concerned — for their safety. Whether they’re picking fruit, working a line in a meatpacking plant, driving a refrigerated truck, or manning a cash register in a local grocery, they dwell on the unknowns of this pandemic. They wonder how they will protect themselves; how will they recover and keep their families healthy if they get sick; and what will happen if they lose their jobs.

“As we try to find solutions to each of those questions, we do know that if we test more broadly and frequently, we can get a better picture of how the virus is impacting our communities.

“That’s why we’ve come together to call on House Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and Minority Leader [Kevin] McCarthy [R-Calif.] as well as Senate Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and Minority [Chuck] Leader Schumer [D-N.Y.] in the Senate, to include $250 billion in the next coronavirus relief package for broad national testing and comprehensive contact tracing of all frontline healthcare professionals, first responders, and food and agricultural workers, as well as the seniors and communities of color that are so disproportionately impacted by this disease.

“Without more testing, workers cannot feel confident their workplaces are safe, no matter what steps employers take to clean and sanitize. Without testing, employers cannot know the degree to which the virus is impacting their workers. Without testing, communities don’t have the broad ability to isolate and quickly treat the sick to limit further spread of the virus. Without testing, we as a nation simply don’t have any idea of the scale of our problem.

“Without testing in every community, we will face painful and expensive setbacks as we work to reopen our economy. Experts suggest we need 30 million tests a week; we’re currently well under 2 million, and there is no coordinated plan from the White House to close that gap. In the absence of national leadership from the administration, Americans are looking to Congress to lead.

“Because of that, we have to act. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to ensure our communities can broadly trace the impacts of this deadly virus.”

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