COVID-19 Resources

COVID-19 Resources

COVID-19 has significantly affected the entire world and every sector of industry.  Businesses have been forced to close, people are working from home, and daily life functions are limited.  Fortunately, the agriculture industry is still in business.  Farmers are still farming, and ranchers are still ranching.  Many people think because of the store shortages that there are shortages in agriculture production.  This is not the case; agriculture production is still happening every day. Agriculture has been deemed a critical/essential industry by both the federal and state government to help ensure the nation’s food supply remains viable. However, there are still questions and concerns about the ability to operate farms and ranches as seamlessly as possible. Below is information and resources to help ensure farm and ranch businesses are able to successfully operate in light of current conditions.

Critical/Essential Industry

Farming and ranching, along with the ancillary businesses that keep them functioning, are critical to ensuring the nation’s food supply. Below are links to federal and state documents providing guidance and/or directive on the industries and sectors classified as critical and/or essential.   

  • Department of Homeland Security - Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA): 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, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”

The guidance document was updated on March 28th. The updated 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. Should you have any questions or would like to provide input, DHS officials urge industry to send information and questions to Cisa.cat@cisa.dhs.gov.

  • Arizona Executive Order Detailing Essential Services – On March 23, 2020 Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order to help clarify businesses and operations deemed as “essential” by the state.  Section 3(c) includes food production as “Essential Infrastructure Operations” and recognizing a broad definition so as to avoid any impacts to essential infrastructure.”

     The executive order can be viewed at this link.

“Stay Home” Order Issued for Arizona – What does it mean for Arizona Agriculture?

On Monday, March 23rd, Governor Ducey issued the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” executive order for Arizona. According to the Governor’s order, Arizonans “may leave their place of residence only for Essential Activities, to participate in or receive Essential Government Functions, or to participate in or fulfill Essential Functions” as outlined in the order.

  • Agriculture and its supporting operations are essential
    • According to Executive Order 2020-12 issued last week, agriculture and its supporting operations are essential and therefore not required to close or cease operation, even with the stay at home directive.
    • Food production, distribution, and sale are all defined as essential infrastructure operations, and food production, processing, cultivation, and manufacturing are defined as essential business operations.
  • Is documentation needed to justify travel?
    • No, the executive order clearly states you will not need to provide documentation or proof of activities to justify travel. That means that you and your employees don’t need a letter or permit stating that they’re traveling for the purpose of engaging in an essential function or business.
  • What about other day-to-day activities?
    • Governor Ducey’s order is focused on maintaining, to the extent possible, access to “activities necessary for the continuity of social and commercial life.”
    • Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open to the public. Restaurants that are offering drive-thru or curbside delivery will also continue to operate.
    • If your children spend all or part of the day with a childcare provider, travel to and from childcare and the services offered there are not prohibited by this order.
    • The “stay connected” part of the order actually encourages socially responsible out-of-home recreation. Walks through the neighborhood, time at the park, and even golfing are still encouraged under the order, so long as appropriate physical distancing and hygiene practices are observed.
    • As mentioned before, there’s no requirement to provide documentation or other proof that your travel is related to an essential activity

Farm Worker Safety

As a critical industry, it is important that employers communicate to their employees what can be done in the workplace to protect their employees and themselves. Below are resources for addressing the coronavirus in the workplace. 

  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) –
    • Link to printable factsheets and posters in English and Spanish for the workplace.
    • Link to Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
  • Farm Employer Labor Service Guidance – link
  • Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development
    • Coronavirus Prevention on Farms – link
    • COVID-19 and Your Dairy Webinar – link

Families First Coronavirus Response Act & Paid Sick Leave

Last week the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law. Two main provisions apply to agriculture employers; a requirement to provide paid leave and a requirement to provide paid sick leave. These requirements start April 2 and remain in effect through the end of the calendar year. The requirements apply to employers with 500 or fewer employees which means that most farmers and ranchers will need to provide benefits.

Employers will be able to reduce the amount of Social Security taxes they owe to compensate for providing the required paid and sick leave. If the expense exceeds the amount of Social Security taxes due, then the government will issue the employer a payment. Self-employed individuals are also able to claim paid sick leave credits. More information about how the tax credits will work is expected to be released by the IRS next week.

Additionally, covered employers are required to post the employment law poster related the FCRA. A link to the posters can be found here.

American Farm Bureau provided the following link to an article posted by the accounting firm, CliftonLarsonAllen, that provides a good summary of the new law. Click here for article.

Please click on the following links for additional information:

  • IRS guidance – click here
    • IRS COVID-19 Related Tax Credits for Required Paid Leave Provided by Small and Midsize Businesses FAQs - click here
  • DOL resources – click here

If you have specific labor or tax questions related to your business, we recommend contacting an employment lawyer and/or a certified public accountant.

U.S. – Mexico Border Closure

U.S. and Mexican officials have mutually determined that non-essential travel between the United States and Mexico poses additional risk of transmission and spread of COVID-19 and places the populace of both nations at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. U.S. and Mexican officials have mutually determined that border crossings will be limited to only “essential personnel.”  This includes:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States;
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Mexico in furtherance of such work);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the United States and Mexico);

Click here for DHS’s guidance.

Department of Labor H-2A Guidance

The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification has published information regarding the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program and COVID-19

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions (March 20, 2020)

Click here for Round 2 Frequently Asked Questions (April 1, 2020)

Additional information and resources can also be found at farmers.gov

Transportation – DOT Expanded National Emergency Declaration for Commercial Vehicles

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has now released two FAQ documents to provide guidance on its expanded national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers in response to the nationwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Click here for DOT Expanded Emergency Declaration related to COVID-19.)

  • FAQ Document #1 – click  here: lists livestock as eligible for hours-of-service relief, because livestock are an immediate precursor to “essential” items for the COVID-19 relief effort.
  • FAQ Document #2 – click here: notes that wood pulp, feed, and fertilizer are eligible for hour-of-service relief under emergency declaration because they are precursors to items that “essential” for emergency relief efforts.

Expanded Telemedicine Coverage

Governor Ducey issued an Executive Order on March 25, 2020 requiring health care insurance companies to expand telemedicine coverage for all services that would normally be covered for an in-person visit. The order helps ensure that Arizonans who may be sick or under quarantine can access care from their homes and avoid potentially risky trips to a health care provider. It remains in effect until the termination of the declared public health emergency. 

Click here for Expansion of Telemedicine Executive Order

Telemedicine Expanded to Include Pets and Animals

Executive Order 2020-19 was issued on April 1st that allows pets and animals to be examined by veterinarians through telemedicine. Under the order:

  • The use of telemedicine may be used by licensed veterinarians in Arizona;
  • The Arizona State Veterinary Medical Board may establish reasonable requirements and parameters for telehealth services, including record keeping, but such requirements and parameters may not be more restrictive or less favorable to providers than are required for veterinary medical services delivered in-person;
  • And veterinary providers cannot not charge more for a telemedicine visit than they would for an in-person visit.

According to the Order, all electronic means of delivering veterinary telehealth, including telephone and video calls, to enable individuals to remain in their homes are allowed under the Executive Order. It also prevents veterinarians from charging more for telemedicine than for an office or in-person visit.

Click here to view the Telemedicine for Pets and Animals Executive Order.

Arizona Department of Agriculture Operations

Please click here to see how operations at Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) have changed as a result of the Governor’s Stay at Home Executive Order.

If customers need to go to the Phoenix office, you are encouraged to call and make an appointment. Phone numbers for the various Divisions are provided in the link above.

*Most of Arizona’s government agencies are implementing similar operations to those employed by AZDA. If you need to visit an agency in person, you are encouraged to call them first.*

Financial Assitance/Resources

U.S. Department of the Treasury - Assistance for Small Businesses

Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a new guaranteed loan program, which includes $349 billion, for small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll. Eligible businesses include nonprofits, veterans organizations, Tribal business concerns, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors – with 500 or fewer employees.

Loans are capped at $10 million but can include up to eight weeks of the businesses average monthly payroll costs from the last year plus an additional 25 percent for non-payroll costs. Seasonal and new businesses will use different calculations. The PPP will be available through June 30, 2020.

  • For a top-line overview of the program CLICK HERE
  • If you’re a borrower, more information can be found HERE
  • The application for borrowers can be found HERE

Applications can begin on:

  • April 3, 2020, for small businesses and sole proprietorships through existing SBA 7(a) lenders
  • April 10, 2020, for independent contractors and self-employed individuals through existing SBA 7(a) lenders
  • All federally insured depository institutions, federally insured credit unions, and Farm Credit System institutions that are not existing SBA lenders can begin making loans once they are approved and enrolled in the SBA program.

Note: The Paycheck Protection Program is separate from the economic disaster assistance (EIDL) grants administered by the Smalll Business Administration. The application for EIDL grants were released yesterday, but the application currently states that agricultural entities are not eligible for the loans. State Farm Bureaus are working with American Farm Bureau in an attempt to clarify and remove that provision and open up the grants to agricultural businesses. Please be on the lookout for additional guidance as we receive it.

American Farm Bureau Article - Update: Paycheck Protection Loans Available to Farmers, Regardless of Revenue, Apply Now

U.S. Department of Agriculture

FSA Relaxing the Farm Loan-Making Process

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) in a news release notes it is relaxing its loan-making process including an extension in the deadline for applicants to complete farm loan applications, extending deadlines for producers to respond to loan servicing actions, and modifications to servicing guaranteed loans.

Note: USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only.

Click here for more detailed information regarding the updates to USDA farm loans.

RMA Authorizing Additional Flexibility for Producers

USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is authorizing additional flexibilities due to COVID-19. RMA is providing support to producers working through Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) to deliver services, including processing policies, claims and agreements. These flexibilities include: enabling producers to send notifications and reports electronically, extending the date for production reports and providing additional time and deferring interest on premium and other payments.

RMA News Release: Click here

RMA COVID-19 FAQs: Click here

USDA Rural Development

The USDA Rural Development Agency is implementing various actions and procedures to provide relief to its customers, partners and stakeholders in the following areas: rural housing service, rural utilities service, and rural business-cooperative service.

Click here for the full USDA announcement.

Funding to Support Vulnerable Arizonans During Pandemic and Opportunity for Direct Market Growers

Governor Doug Ducey announced an initial $6.7 million in funding to support Arizona food banks, nutrition programs and programs that serve the homeless. The dollars are part of a $50 million COVID-19 relief package signed into law over the weekend by Governor Ducey and will have an immediate impact for Arizona’s most at-risk communities. 

$1.75 million is being dedicated to improve food security in Arizona. This includes:

  • $1 million in immediate food bank assistance to be distributed by the Department of Economic Security to enhance existing food bank infrastructure. 
  • $500,000 to expand Arizona’s “Double-Up” Food Bucks program, which allows Arizonans receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance to get a $1 match from the State for every $1 they spend on Arizona-grown fruits and vegetables, up to an additional $20 per day. Private-sector partners have also announced that they will contribute $500,000 to the “Double-up program, bringing program capacity to $1 million.
  • $250,000 for the Arizona Produce Purchasing Program, known as the “Farm To Food Bank” program. Through a partnership between the Arizona Food Bank Network, the Department of Economic Security, and the Department of Agriculture along with agricultural partners, this program provides those in need with fresh produce, eggs, chicken, and pork, and provides a market for local producers to support their employees and communities.

If direct market growers want to connect with their local food banks to sell their product, they should go to Friends of the Farm.