PHOENIX—Reps. Greg Stanton and Debbie Lesko sent a joint bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for immediate assistance for Arizona farmers working to maintain food supply chains amid the COVID-19 emergency.
The CARES Act allocated $9.5 billion to the USDA to provide direct financial relief to farmers and ranchers—with an emphasis on those who supply to local food systems such as farmers’ markets and restaurants. However, many family-owned farms in Arizona have yet to receive any aid and expressed fears of being left behind.
Arizona farmers are also struggling to get information on improvements to the loan process that would add flexibility for getting emergency loans to farms. Despite the Farm Service Agency under the USDA announcing changes to the loan program on March 26, many small-to medium-sized farms are still unclear about how the loan program is being administered.
“Many farmers face a unique challenge during this pandemic. They have crops in the ground that require tending in order to get into the food supply chain and can’t afford to wait around for assistance to arrive,” said Stanton. “Congress acted quickly, but so far the federal government has been slow to respond. Arizona’s farmers need action—now.”
“Farmers are a vital part of the Arizona and American economies, and it is important they have access to the resources they need during this crisis,” said Lesko. “While many government agencies are facing challenges that come with increased demand, it is important that those they serve receive help quickly. It is my hope that the Farm Service Agency will respond promptly and help our farmers navigate this difficult time.”
“Farms are living things that need to be nurtured and cared for in order to survive,” said Kate McClendon of McClendon Select, a family-run certified organic farm with locations in Peoria and Goodyear. “Small farms need to be able to access relief loans easily and quickly for the health and safety of our crops and animals. The combined contribution of small farms to our nation’s food chain is significant, even if our voice is small. I am grateful to Arizona’s Congressional members for recognizing our role in our country’s food supply and hope that the USDA makes this process easy and equitable so we can get back to the work of growing food.”
“We urge you to work quickly to delegate the funding approved by Congress for our farmers and ranchers, and work with the local FSA Service Centers to ensure they have the resources and tools necessary to administer the intended support for Arizona’s agriculture community,” the letter states.
Stanton and Lesko’s full letter is available here.