Ask the Senate to Provide Relief to Farmers Market Operators

By: Ben Feldman       Posted On: May 17, 2020

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives introduced the latest and largest of its COVID-19 relief package, expected to pass the chamber later this week. The $3 trillion bill includes support for food and agriculture programs, but could have done more to address systemic problems in our food system.

Notably, the bill includes $50 million in grants “to provide assistance in response to the 17 COVID–19 pandemic” for entities eligible to receive a Farmers Market or Local Food Promotion Program Grant. This means farmers, nonprofits, local and tribal governments, and any other groups that can apply for FMLFPP grants under normal circumstances would be eligible for these funds as well. Beyond the wording above the bill does not address specific allowable uses for the funds.

The bill also broadens nonprofit eligibility for Paycheck Protection Program loans to all entities established under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. Previous rounds of the PPP limited eligibility to 501(c)3 nonprofits, excluding other types of nonprofits. This was of particular concern for FMC as most nonprofit market operators are established as 501(c)4s, 501(c)5s, and 501(c)6s.

Additionally, the bill provides states with flexibility to waive any Senior FMNP rules to implement the program during the COVID pandemic. This could allow states to more efficiently make food from farmers accessible to vulnerable seniors.

While expected to easily pass the House, Senate leadership has already dismissed the new bill and will likely wait until after Labor Day to take up their next proposal. It is unclear which components would make it into a Senate bill, but many farmers market operators are facing a dire situation. For this reason, we are asking FMC members to contact your senators and ask them to include support for farmers market operators as part of their package.

Sample Script:

Dear Senator _______,

(IDENTIFY YOURSELF, YOUR LOCATION, AND YOUR CONNECTIONS TO FARMERS MARKETS. FOR EXAMPLE: “My name is Johnny Appleseed. I’m a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana and I run 3 farmers markets in the city.”)

As Senate considers another pandemic relief package, I want to make sure you know that across the country and in _______(your state), farmers markets operator — the organizations and individuals who plan, coordinate, and run America’s farmers markets — are engaging in herculean efforts to protect their communities from COVID-19. But even as interest in local foods spikes nationwide, many market operators face the double threat of increased costs to operate during a pandemic in addition to declining income. To make matters worse, many aren’t eligible for federal relief efforts to date. If these vital institutions close, farmers will go bankrupt and consumers will go hungry.

For these reasons I would like to highlight two key ways the Senate can bolster farmers markets, protect the livelihood of farmers, and ensure consumers of all income levels have access to the best food America has to offer:

      • Grants for farmers and farmers market operators to cover increased costs associated with protecting farmers, farmers market staff and shoppers from COVID-19.
      • Expand eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program to all non-profit types under Internal Revenue Code 501(c). To date only 501(c)3s have been eligible but many market operators are other types.

Thank you for your time,
[Your name]