The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture sent a letter Monday to U.S. Acting Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Shea to request additional flexibility for states’ use of Specialty Crop Block Grants included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to enhance their responses to the continued demands COVID-19 places on the industry, according to a news release.

“State departments of agriculture appreciated the decision of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to allow short term relief, but challenges impacting our food supply related to COVID-19 are still present and continued flexibility is needed,” association CEO Dr. Barb Glenn said. “Unfortunately, such relief did not carry forward for 2021 funds through the normal farm bill mechanism, or for the additional emergency funds appropriated in the omnibus.”

In the letter, Glenn outlined additional ways state agriculture departments could use the grants if given approval. Examples included implementing vaccination programs for agricultural and food workers, building COVID-19 related infrastructure and offsetting increased costs to provide safe worker housing and transportation.

Since the onset of the pandemic, association members have continuously worked to help food producers and workers stay safe and meet the needs of their communities. Through additional and allowed flexibility in funding programs, members would be able to leverage and maximize local solutions for local recovery efforts, the association said in its news release.

“We ask USDA and the OMB to consider granting extra flexibilities within Specialty Crop Block Grants during this national emergency so NASDA members can uphold their responsibility to protect all who work on the farm and preserve the competitiveness of the specialty crop industry.”

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