Bill introduced to help small meatpacking plants during COVID-19 pandemic

By  | 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WIBW) -- Senators Jerry Moran and Michael Bennet introduced the Small Packer Overtime Holiday Relief COVID-19 Act Thursday, May 22.

The Act aims to support small meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours than normal during the coronavirus pandemic.

“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,” says Sen. 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 necessary we remove cost-prohibitive barriers so our packers can keep working, ranchers can harvest their livestock and Americans can have access to quality food.”

Data from the USDA shows that cattle slaughter in May has reduced by almost 31% compared to 2019. The current health emergency is closing meatpacking plants temporarily and slowing processing operations accounting for the decrease.

“The COVID-19 crisis has hit the food supply chain – from producers to our essential workforce – particularly hard,” says Senator 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.”

Currently the USDA FSIS charges plants an overtime and holiday fee for food inspectors. The new Act would provide funding to FSIS in order to reduce the fees charged.

“We need all hands on deck to work through this processing bottleneck,” says Rep. 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.”

Plants with less than 10 employees would be required to pay 25% of the overtime and holiday fees and FSIS would pay the other 75%. Plants with 10-500 employees would be required to pay 70% of the fees while FSIS would pay the remaining 30%.

“Our small meat processers have stepped up during COVID-19 to keep our local food systems alive and food on our tables,” says Rep. 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.”

The Small Packer Overtime Holiday Relief COVID-19 Act was cosponsored by Senator Tina Smith and Senator Bob Casey.