Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act to support small meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to keep our supply chain moving. U.S. Representatives Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“The COVID-19 crisis has hit the food supply chain – from producers to our essential workforce – particularly hard,” said Bennet. “In addition to prioritizing the health of workers, we should look to reduce barriers for small meatpackers who are stepping up and running overtime to keep the supply chain moving. This bill would do just that by reducing fees for small meatpacking plants, expanding options for ranchers to harvest their livestock while maintaining strong safety standards.”
“Meatpackers in Kansas and across the country are doing everything they can to stay open and work longer hours to keep our meat supply in stock during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Moran. “Unfortunately, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service charges meatpacking plants a fee for overtime hours for food inspectors, and this legislation would reduce these fees that discourage smaller packing plants from extending operating hours. During this pandemic, it is vital we remove cost-prohibitive barriers so our packers can keep working, ranchers can harvest their livestock and Americans can have access to quality food.”
“Our small meat processers have stepped up during COVID-19 to keep our local food systems alive and food on our tables,” said Craig. “As a Member of the House Agriculture Committee, I’ve heard from family farmers who aren’t sure how they are going to make it past this global pandemic. Local meat processors have addressed the increased demand for processing amidst this pandemic. I’m proud work with Rep. Johnson to lessen the federal burdens as they are rising to meet the current demands of our communities.”
“We need all hands on deck to work through this processing bottleneck,” said Johnson. “Small processors need flexibility and that’s what this bill would provide. The cattle industry is struggling, and during this pandemic, it’s crucial we keep overtime costs low for our small processors and producers who rely on this capacity.”
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), cattle slaughter in May has decreased by approximately 31 percent compared to last year. This decrease is largely due to meatpacking plants temporarily closing due to outbreaks of COVID-19 or plants slowing operations to take safety precautions to stop the spread of the virus.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) charges meatpacking plants a fee for overtime and holiday hours paid to food inspectors. This legislation would provide funding to FSIS to reduce fees charged to small meatpacking plants when they request overtime and holiday inspection services.
Meatpacking plants with fewer than 10 employees would be required to pay 25 percent of overtime and holiday fees and FSIS would pay the remaining 75 percent. Plants with 10-500 employees would be required to pay 70 percent of overtime fees with FSIS paying the remaining 30 percent.
In addition to Bennet and Moran, this legislation was cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).
The bill text is available HERE.