Connecticut Lawmakers Push USDA for More Assistance to Shellfish Farmers
WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Representative Joe Courtney (CT-02) was joined by Reps. John Larson (CT-01), Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Jim Himes (CT-04), and Jahana Hayes (CT-05), and by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), in writing a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to continue pressing USDA to find avenues to expand federal resources to aid shellfish farmers in Connecticut and throughout the country. This is the second letter that the Connecticut Congressional delegation has sent to USDA on the need for federal support for the shellfish industry. In this week’s letter, the delegation pressed Secretary Perdue once again to open CFAP assistance to Connecticut shellfish farmers, and targeted a new avenue of assistance: USDA’s Section 32 purchase program, which was designed to purchase surplus food to be provided to those in need through domestic food assistance programs.
In their letter, the delegation explains how shellfish farmers have been hit particularly hard by the economic fallout of COVID-19, and make the case for their eligibility for financial assistance under USDA’s Section 32 purchase program. They note that USDA has acted inconsistently in denying Section 32 purchases of oyster meat while simultaneously approving purchases for comparable products like shrimp and catfish, and that the economic argument for Section 32 purchases in the shellfish and aquaculture industry is strong. Specifically, the Members write:
“USDA has rejected requests to include certain farmed shellfish aquaculture in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and has also rejected a request for the agency to purchase oyster meat under the Section 32 program. Due to both decisions, we are concerned that USDA has provided this industry with no other options during this economically challenging time. It is essential that USDA reconsider these requests.
“On August 14th, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service rejected a petition from the East Coast shellfish industry for Section 32 oyster meat purchases. This petition was denied on the grounds that the “cost of purchasing oyster products outweighed the volume of product that could be made available to food banks and feeding programs.”
“We encourage you to consult Public Law 74-320 (7 U.S.C. 612c), which specifies three clauses for the use of funds. Although 7 U.S.C. 612c goes into detail as to what is an appropriate use of the funds, nowhere in the law is it written that the cost of purchasing a product should be the sole determinant of whether that product is purchased by USDA.
“The economic argument for Section 32 purchases is strong. These purchases are necessary to avert a pending price collapse that will likely be inevitable for fresh, in-shell oysters. Oyster farmers have significant inventories of product with sales reduced due to the lower restaurant demand. With commodity oversupply, prices are likely to crash precipitously this fall. Growers can maintain this inventory temporarily but will not be able to do so indefinitely.”
The Connecticut delegation has worked to support shellfish farmers and aquaculture producers throughout the COVID-19 economic crisis. In this week’s letter, they continued to press Secretary Perdue to make shellfish farmers and aquaculture producers eligible for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The delegation notes that although USDA has denied shellfish farmers CFAP assistance since the program first went online in June, there remains a chance for USDA to support these farmers with existing funds still remaining in the program:
“In May, USDA announced that the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) would soon be operational, and that USDA was interested in learning about losses for the aquaculture industry;
“Unfortunately, on June 1st, before the comment period ended for the proposed rule, USDA decided that farmed shellfish aquaculture would be ineligible for CFAP.
“With funds still available in this program – which the agency will be disbursing to commodities which have already received significant assistance – we request that the agency consider the shellfish aquaculture industry for CFAP, especially because USDA is already working on details for a second round of CFAP. There is no coherent argument to exclude them from this program, as USDA could easily promulgate regulations prohibiting any “double dipping” from NOAA funds. Already, farmers cannot receive more than 100% of what would make them “whole” through the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, CFAP, or NOAA programs. The Department should consider this change and provide this support to these farmers, who have encountered more dire financial difficulties than many other agricultural sectors, but have yet to receive substantial assistance from any federal agency.”
To read the delegation’s full letter, which provides more details on specific injuries to shellfish farmers and their eligibility for Section 32 and CFAP purchases, click here.
The Connecticut delegation has worked to support shellfish farmers and aquaculture producers throughout the COVID-19 economic crisis. In a July letter led by Senator Chris Murphy, the delegation called on Secretary Perdue to reverse USDA’s decision to prohibit shellfish farmers from being eligible for direct payments through CFAP. In their letter, the lawmakers noted that the CARES Act allows shellfish agriculture to receive funding through USDA, and allowing additional resources to shellfish farmers will help weather the storm due to COVID-19.
On July 23rd, the Connecticut delegation joined Rep. Courtney in writing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, to urge them to provide support for shellfish and aquaculture farmers in the next COVID-19 economic relief package.
In June, Rep. Courtney wrote to USDA Secretary Perdue and to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross requesting immediate assistance for aquaculture producers in Connecticut to access new funding through the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), or other additional funds through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Click here to read more.