New York Farm Bureau will be sending daily alerts at this time to keep you up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 news that may affect you, your farm family and employees. We know things are constantly changing, but we will do our best to keep you informed, offer guidance and share ways you may be able to help. We will do this for as long as it is necessary. NYFB is a community, and we are all in this together.
The Latest from Gov. Cuomo’s Daily Briefing on COVID-19
On the Budget:
For the latest number of infection cases, including a breakdown by county, click here.
New York State Trying to Reach Budget Agreement by April 1
State budget negotiations are ongoing with an eye towards the April 1 Constitutional deadline. New York Farm Bureau’s Public Policy staff continues to be engaged with the Governor’s office, legislators and their staff to advocate for critical agricultural programmatic funding and needed clarifications to the recently enacted farm labor law, among other issues.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing state-mandated business closures and extension of tax filing deadlines, the state finds itself in quite a fiscal bind with a looming $15 billion budget deficit. New York Farm Bureau will remain engaged in the budget process and is working to ensure a favorable budget outcome for agriculture.
State Department Expands Interview Waivers for H2 Visas
The State Department (DOS) has authorized officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants eligible to waive an in-person interview. DOS, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview. Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months, and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa. The State Department anticipates the vast majority of otherwise qualified! H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DOS temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates as of March 20, 2020. These consulates were prioritizing interview waiver eligible cases. Previous requirements stated that H2 applicants were only interview waiver eligible if their visa had expired in the last 12 months and they had not used an interview waiver previously. This announcement indicates more H2 visas will now be considered interview waiver eligible, allowing for increased workforce access. Click here and here for further information.
Cornell CALS Institute for Food Safety Resources
Have a question regarding what to do if an employee tests positive, or need guidance on how to improve sanitation procedures? There’s a new resource from Cornell CALS, a “Standard Operating Procedure” that food processors and also farmers can utilize to design a plan in advance of an employee testing positive. Have the information that you need and the steps to take already prepared before a positive employee test. The first link is a risk management strategy checklist, designed more for food processors but also adaptable to farms. The second link is the Standard Operating Procedure which will be helpful to have completed in advance. As always, the Cornell Institute for Food Safety coronavirus resource page has an FAQ page, information on audits and cleaning protocols, and other resources.
Need information? View the following Cornell CALS and CCE Resource.
Cornell CALS Ag. Workforce Development Specialist, Dr. Richard Stup, and Elizabeth Bihn, PhD, Director of Produce Safety Alliance at Cornell, will provide steps that produce farm managers and individuals working with fruit and vegetable farms should consider to protect their workforce, their business, and their markets.
Federal Coronavirus Assistance Legislation Update
On Wednesday the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which is a $2 trillion coronavirus-related assistance bill. The bill includes a wide variety of assistance for local governments, hospitals, businesses, and direct checks to individuals, based on income. The House voted today and passed the CARES Act. The bill is expected to be signed by the President today.
The CARES Act does include provisions which benefit farmers including a $14 billion increase in USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation, consistent with a long history of the CCC being tapped to support agriculture in times of crisis, and $9.5 billion to assist specialty crop producers, direct retail farmers and livestock operators. An updated fact sheet with a summary of the bill’s provisions and implications for farmers can be found here. This fact sheet will be updated with new information as more details of the package are known.
DEC will Not Provide any General Relief from SPDES or other Regulatory Requirements
Cornell Pro-Dairy has issued this guidance for farms so that they are compliant if compliance issues arise during the COVID-19 pandemic. When issues with COVID-19 pandemic or compliance are identified, facilities should:
As required under standard protocols, operators should report non-compliance, the associated circumstances related to non-compliance, and actions to address non-compliance to DEC.
If circumstances prevent the timely submission of a routine report requirements, permittees should submit the completed report as soon as reasonably possible and provide the reasons for delay with the submission.
DEC will consider the overall circumstances and extent of non-compliance, and actions by the facility to resolve issues. If a facility/permittee has details about specific facility issues or specific compliance situation, DOW recommends you follow the above guidance. You may also contact the DOW Regional Office and/or facility inspector with a copy to Edward Hampston in Central Office, Bureau of Water Compliance, including specific details.
Online Maple Weekend
This weekend was to be the second Maple Weekend in New York State. Unfortunately, the public events had to be canceled for this month but look for alternative dates in the future. In the meantime, you can still support your fellow agricultural producers by purchasing maple products online. The NYS Maple producers have set up links to many local sugarhouses. The sap is flowing, and we are told the flavor is exceptional this year. Click here to support NY Maple.
NYFB Sends Letter to FCC Requesting Broadband Expansion
NYFB sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission requesting the need for broadband in New York State in order to remain competitive and requesting that Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) funds are able to be utilized in conjunction with New York’s Broadband Program. Access to broadband is essential for farms and other rural small businesses to manage efficient and successful operations, to reach their communities and customers, to stay on the cutting edge of their industry, and for our rural communities to be attractive places to live for our employees, customers and the next generation to run our businesses. A copy of the letter can be found here.
Update on Farm Vehicle Registrations
Due to COVID-19, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) closed DMV offices and required all transactions to be done online. While it is very important to take precautions in protecting the health of the public and DMV employees, there are concerns about how certain DMV transactions can be done during this time. Many farms have seasonal vehicles that need to be registered and obtain new registration plates. Currently, those registrations cannot be done on the DMV website. NYFB is continuing to communicate with the DMV about this issue and will share information as it becomes available.
Federal Coronavirus Paid Leave Update- Provisions Now Effective April 1
Earlier this month, the President signed a second piece of legislation aimed at providing support to individuals and businesses impacted by the COVID-19. Known as the Families First COVID-19 Response Act, the legislation creates a new federal emergency paid leave benefit program for those impacted by the COVID-19. The law requires businesses with fewer than 500 workers provide emergency short- and long-term leave. The law takes effect April 1, 2020 and will expire on Dec. 31, 2020. It’s important for employers, including farmers, to review the requirements and inform employees on the leave provisions. A summary of those provisions can be found here and the U.S. Department of Labor has issued guidance on the provision, which can be found here. It is important to note that farmers are not exempt from these leave provisions.
Modification to the NYS Warn Act
NYS has announced a modification to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN Act, effective immediately. The WARN Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time workers in New York State to provide 90 days’ notice of closures and layoffs to workers, employee representatives, the Department of Labor, and local workforce development boards if: closing affects 25 or more workers, mass layoffs involve 25 or more full-time workers (if the 25 or more workers make up at least 33% of all the workers at the site),
Due to COVID-19, New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) recognizes that many businesses are facing rapid and unexpected closures. The WARN Act requirement to provide 90 days’ advanced notice has not been suspended (the WARN Act already recognizes that businesses cannot predict sudden and unexpected circumstances beyond an employer’s control). However, NYSDOL asks that you provide as much information as possible when you file your notice about the circumstances of your closure, such as government-mandated closure or other specific circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic, so they can determine if an exception to the WARN Act applies to your situation.
Updated information on the Act and contact information for your notice is available by clicking here. Please note that the NYSDOL’s preferred method of receiving notices is via email.
NOTE: There is a federal WARN Act as well, which provides that employers with 100 or more full-time employees must provide at least 60 calendar days’ notice to employees, employee representatives (i.e., unions), and state/local officials in advance of certain plant closings or mass layoffs.
Reminder to Employers: New York’s Wage Theft Protection Act
New York passed the Wage Theft Protection Act in 2010. Among other things, it provides written notice of wage rates to each new hire. The notice must include:
Rate or rates of pay, including overtime rate of pay (if it applies); how the employee is paid: by the hour, shift, day, week, commission, etc.; regular payday; official name of the employer and any other names used for business (DBA); address and phone number of the employer's main office or principal location; and allowances taken as part of the minimum wage (tips, meal and lodging deductions).
NYFB reminds its members that if any data in the notice changes, the employer must tell employees at least a week before it happens. For example, in the event your employees are going to receive a reduction in pay during the COVID-19 crisis, you must notify them in writing one week prior to the reduction being implemented.
For more information, click here.
FSA Makes Changes to Programs to Make it Easier for Customers to Conduct Business
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices are open in STATE by phone appointment only until further notice, and FSA staff are available to continue helping agricultural producers with program signups, loan servicing and other important actions. Additionally, FSA is relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.
FSA is delivering programs and services, including:
Farm loans; Commodity loans; Farm Storage Facility Loan program; Disaster assistance programs, including signup for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (this includes producers now eligible because of losses due to drought and excess moisture in 2018 and 2019); Safety net programs, including 2020 signup for the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs; Conservation programs; and Acreage reports.
REAL ID Deadline Extended
The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that the deadline for REAL ID compliance will be delayed. The new deadline for enforcement will be October 1, 2021. This allows an extra year for individuals to update their driver’s licenses so they can use it as a form of identification when flying. More information on the REAL ID can be found here.
PACA FAQs Related to the COVID-19 Impact on the Fruit and Vegetable Industry
The USDA in administering the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) has released a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that aims to address fruit and vegetable industry questions in regards to PACA and the coronavirus. A copy of the FAQ can be found here.
NY FarmNet, Other Helplines open
Please keep these numbers and websites available to call or share should you, a family member or friends need someone to speak with in these uncertain times. Support is available.
Social Media Requests
New York Farm Bureau is looking to share more positive stories on social media about what is happening on your farm. Show us preparations and fieldwork for spring planting. We’d love to see how the greenhouses are looking. What are you doing to promote safe and healthy working conditions for your employees? How are you being creative and doing things differently? Share a story with consumers as you talk to the camera. Please send videos and pictures to Steve Ammerman, NYFB’s public affairs manager at firstname.lastname@example.org and help us spread the message that NY agriculture is #StillFarming
If you have concerns about how COVID-19 will affect your agricultural operation, please give New York Farm Bureau a call at 518-436-8495. We can only help those who ask. Who knows, maybe your question will cause us to get ahead of a problem instead of reacting to it after it has become a problem.
• For previous NYFB COVID-19 alerts and the latest info, click here.
• Click here for the latest information from New York State on COVID-19.
• The CDC has created a website for the latest news on the virus.
Click here to access it.