As international and domestic supply chains continue to face difficulties, local and regionally produced, processed, and distributed foods offer a reliable way to get agricultural products into the hands of people. Though they are reliable and resilient, local producers, processors and farmers’ markets have had to make many changes to keep their workers and consumers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here at Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, we have seen direct-to-consumer producers retrofit their market stands and packing/processing buildings to increase space, handwashing capacity and accommodate new forms of packaging. We’ve also seen producers add online sales platforms and home delivery options. Farmers’ markets have made changes to their vendor spacing rules, created new signage, and have implemented new policies. Across the board, producers, processors, distributors, and farmers’ markets have purchased PPE, cleaning supplies and devoted many hours of staff time to keep their employees and consumers safe.
The changes and pivots to ensure the safety of workers and consumers have costs that generally have not been offset with an increase in sales. To support these safety measures the USDA has launched their Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program.
Approximately $650 million in funding is available to eligible producers, processors, distributors, and farmers markets. The funds can be used to cover the costs of a variety of worker and consumer safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented during the time period of January 27th 2020 – December 31st 2021.
The application for this grant is by far the simplest we’ve seen from the USDA – they have taken the information gathered in various listening sessions- in a nutshell “simplify the process”- to heart. Once a business has determined it is eligible and has a current DUNS number (more information about DUNS numbers here) the application process should take about 10 minutes to complete. Organizations like Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and Center for Rural Affairs are here to help businesses with their applications or questions.
The USDA also has created a helpline specifically for this grant: Application Helpdesk by phone at (301) 238-5550 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The helpdesk hours of operation are Monday – Friday, 9AM-9PM ET.
Who is eligible?
- Certain commodity areas, including specialty crop producers, shellfish farming, finfish farming, aquaculture, and apiculture; specialty crop, meat, and other processors; food manufacturers, distributors; and farmers markets.
- Small businesses and non-profit organizations are eligible to apply.
- Learn more about eligibility requirements here: https://usda-prs.grantsolutions.gov/usda?id=usda_eligibility_info
What costs are covered by this grant?
In general, costs associated with the following areas are covered by this grant:
Workplace Safety: Implementing workplace safety measures to protect workers against COVID-10. Examples could include:
- Providing personal protective equipment, thermometers, cleaning supplies, sanitizer, or hand washing stations
- Installation and purchase of air filters or new signage
Market Pivots: Implementing market pivots to protect workers against COVID-19 Examples could include:
- Develop and implement online platforms
- Utilize online or print materials to communicate market pivots
Retrofitting Facilities: Retrofitting facilities for worker and consumer safety to protect against COVID-19
- Installation and purchase of protective barriers made of plexiglass or plastic sheeting, walk up windows, heat lamps/heaters, fans, tents, propane, weights, tables, chairs and lighting
Transportation: Providing additional transportation options to maintain social distancing and worker and consumer safety to protect against COVID-19
- Secure additional transportation services for workers
- Offer new delivery routes or distribution services
Worker Housing: Providing worker housing that protects workers against COVID-19
- Secure additional housing resources/services to maintain social distancing or to allow for quarantining of new or exposed employees
Medical: Providing health services to protect workers against COVID-19
- Offer or enable vaccinations, testing, or healthcare treatment of infected employees, including any paid leave due to COVID-19 infection
Salaries are eligible expenses if staff shifted from their normal duties to implement COVID-19 response activities related to one of the activities listed in the approved eligible outcome categories (Workplace Safety Measures, Market Pivots, Retrofitting Facilities, Transportation, Worker Housing and Medical).
For more information and application for the Pandemic Response and Safety grant, visit: https://usda-prs.grantsolutions.gov/usda
Applications are accepted until 11:59 PM Eastern Time on November 22nd, 2021.