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.
Listen to Leadership Conference Call about COVID-19 Response
Last night, NYFB President, David Fisher, hosted a conference call for county leadership to update members on what steps NYFB is taking to help farmers deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner, Richard Ball and American Farm Bureau Federation President, Zippy Duvall, both spoke on the call and provided critical updates.
A recording of the call can be accessed here. Please enter the required information and you will be taken to the recording.
In addition, NYFB Public Policy Staff continues to have scheduled, daily conference calls with Commissioner Ball’s staff to exchange information on the current situation and answer questions posed by the industry. If you have questions or need clarifications about how your farm operation is impacted by governmental edicts, please email Jeff Williams, Director of Public Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Governor Further Reduces Workforce, Agriculture Still Essential
Governor Cuomo announced today that starting on Sunday non-essential businesses will have to move reduce its workforce by 100 percent. Food, beverage, food-related agriculture and farming and food retail industries, as well as the businesses that service those industries are exempt.
We are still waiting on the details of this latest order but please review this guidance document regarding gathering and exemptions.
Updated information will be posted here.
Executive Order Exemptions
New York Farm Bureau has also petitioned the Governor to include in the agricultural exemption, exemptions for horticulturally-based farm operations, given the time sensitive nature of their business. The letter to the Governor can be viewed here.
Update on executive order for equine operations and horticulture
Equine operations: animal care is exempt, so farm workers can be on the farm to do so. No riding lessons, camps, etc. Horse owners should not visit their horses to ride on boarding farms.
Horticulture: If the nursery grows food crops alongside perennials and shrubs, they are exempt from the Governor’s workplace reduction rule. If they only grow non-edible plants, they will need to keep workers home --unless they conduct food production.
Update on Paid Leave: State and Federal
On March 19, the Governor signed into law legislation that provides paid leave and other benefits to employees who are impacted by mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. One change that happened since our last update on this bill is that the second part of the legislation that created new and permanent sick leave regulation was taken out of the legislation signed by the Governor. Therefore, only the paid leave requirements for COVID-19 was included in the signed legislation. Click here to view NYFB’s revised factsheet on this legislation.
Federal legislation was also passed that provides paid leave for employees. Click here to view NYFB’s factsheet on the federal paid leave legislation. New York’s legislation requires that employees provide the paid leave that provides the most benefits to employees. In most cases, New York State’s new emergency paid sick leave will be more generous for employees subject to quarantine or isolation by a public health official or have a minor child quarantined. In that case, employers should provide benefits provided by that law. In the case of an employee requiring leave to care for a child whose school has closed due to the coronavirus, or other applicable situations, the federal law would be most generous and would be in effect. There are changes happening every day and we understand that all these new legislations and regulations, such as paid leave, can be confusing. NYFB will continue to share information and updates. Please reach out to NYFB with any questions.
H-2A Housing Update
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) and (DOL) are working to develop an alternative inspection and permit approach for H-2A housing during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure that H-2A employers are able to meet their obligations under the H-2A housing requirements. As guidance becomes available, it will be provided to producers.
Guatemala H-2A Update
The Guatemalan President has announced the closure of the Guatemalan borders for a period of 15 days beginning at 11:59pm on March 16. After that, no flights will enter or depart Guatemala. All travelers should communicate with air carriers directly to reconfirm existing travel plans or to schedule new ones. Access to Guatemala via land borders will only be authorized for Guatemalan citizens, residents, and diplomats and their family members accredited in Guatemala. All who enter via land borders will be quarantined and tracked by the Guatemalan Ministry of Health (MSPAS).
Effective March 17, U.S. Embassy Guatemala City has suspended, all non-emergency appointments and processing for both Non-immigrant and Immigrant visas, with the exclusion of some H-2 applicants until further notice. Only appointments for emergency travel (for example, urgent medical care) will be considered.
The U.S. Guatemalan Embassy is still able to process some H-2A applications, but workers may not be able to leave the country at this time. Workers can proceed with their appointments if the consulate is willing to process and the workers will be able to exit once the flight and travel ban is lifted. Further information can be found at the Embassy website, here.
H-2A Visa Services in South Africa Update
Effective March 18, 2020, South Africa halted interviews of first-time H-2 applicants (and any other H-2 applicants requiring an in-person interview), but the Department of State has indicated that South Africa will continue processing mail-in applications from those qualifying for an interview waiver. Originally it was indicated that South Africa was processing H-2A vias an emergency visas, but that is no longer the case. The State Department is continuing to explore alternatives to continue processing the workforce through all consulates around the world. For more information please visit www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a. USDA has established an email address to receive agricultural labor questions and have encouraged those with questions to reach out to USDA at email@example.com.
Mexican Border Update
It was announced today, March 20, 2020, that the U.S.-Mexico border is closing to nonessential travel. NYFB is monitoring the situation to ensure the flow of trade and H-2A workers are still able to travel into the country.
Production of Hand Sanitizer to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has found that it is necessary to provide certain exemptions and authorizations to distilled spirits permittees who wish to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizers in order to address the high demand for these products during the pandemic. Any existing distilled spirits permittee can immediately begin production of hand sanitizer without first obtaining authorization.
Tax Guidance: Hand sanitizer products are not subject to Federal excise tax if made with denatured ethanol. If made with undenatured ethanol excise tax does apple. For more information including formula guidance click here.
Small Business Administration Loans Available to New York Business Owners
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to all small business owners in New York suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance per small business and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. More information on the loans can be found here.
Federal Tax Filing Deadline Now July 15
The deadline for filing tax returns will be postponed three months, to July 15 because of the coronavirus outbreak, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced today. The deadline for paying income taxes has also been extended until July 15. C-corporations may defer up to $10 million of tax liability until July 15. Individuals can defer up to $1 million of tax liability until July 15. The notice says the deferral amount is the same for a single individual and for married individuals filing a joint return.
Cornell Small Farms Program Offering Free Online Courses
Cornell Small Farms Program has set up a farm resilience resource page that brings together information and resources from its partners in CCE and other agencies, as well as learning opportunities to help you adapt for this season.
To further support farms in this trying time, it will offer free access for any two of its online courses through the end of April. CSFP says this is a gesture of solidarity made possible by its online course team, as well as students who have paid to take these courses over the years. While the instructor-led courses are nearly wrapped up for the year, all of the recorded lectures and other the content is there for your self-directed study. Its suite of more than 20 online courses help farmers improve their technical and business skills. These courses cover a range of topics, from mushroom growing to financial planning, to anything in between that a farmer needs to succeed. Click here for more information.
CISA Releases Critical Infrastructure Workers Guidance; Including Agriculture
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released its guidance for Critical Essential Infrastructure Workforce and identified agriculture and its workforce as critical. The guidance states that: “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
In collaboration with other federal agencies and the private sector, CISA, a DHS agency, developed an initial list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” to help State and local officials as they work to protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. The list can also inform critical infrastructure community decision-making to determine the sectors, sub-sectors, segments, or critical functions that should continue normal operations, appropriately modified to account for Centers for Disease Control workforce and customer protection guidance.
The document can be viewed at this link. This list is advisory in nature and is not a federal directive or standard. This list is also intended to be continuously reviewed and amended as the COVID-19 situation changes.
American Farm Bureau Federation Offering COVID-19 Updates
Similar to NYFB’s new webpage devoted to the latest on the Coronavirus, AFBF is also offering a clearinghouse of information on its website. Click here for additional stories and messages from the national organization.
NY FarmNet Still Taking Calls
NY FarmNet, which offers free consultant services on topics like business planning and mental health, is open and available to take calls at 1-800-547-3276. These calls are toll-free, confidential, and available 24-7. This is not a number to reach New York Farm Bureau.
Following the guidelines of health and government officials in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, NY FarmNet is temporarily limiting face-to-face meetings, visits to farms, educational events, etc. They will work with farmers and agri-service via phone, email, and webinar. Their hotline will be answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by a live person. NY FarmNet remains committed to providing technical assistance in farm business management and personal wellbeing to New York’s farm community. Visit NY FarmNet’s website here.
If you have concerns about how COVID-19 will affect your agricultural operation, please give New York Farm Bureau a call. 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.
• 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.