COVID-19: Industry Resources

Last Updated: August 20, 2020
The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly.  USA Rice is curating the best resources for our industry and including them here.  

If you can't find what you are looking for, please email GATeam@usarice.com.  For media inquiries, please email media@usarice.com.

Consumer information and resources can be found here.

Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce

Guidance

Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released updated guidance to help state and local jurisdictions and the private sector identify and manage their essential workforce while responding to COVID-19.  Agriculture and food are recognized within this guidance.  DHS will use this list to support federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government response to COVID-19. The latest version of this guidance was released on August 18 and can be accessed below. Version 4.0 provides guidance on how jurisdictions and critical infrastructure owners can use the list to assist in prioritizing the ability of essential workers to work safely while supporting ongoing infrastructure operations across the nation.
While there are variances in requirements from state to state and at other levels of government, it’s been suggested that employers provide their employees with documentation for them to have on them at all times while traveling to and from work or carrying out other work functions. Documentation such as a verification of employment letter and employment credentials have been known to suffice. USA Rice has created a sample template letter that can be used by employers to verify an employee as essential and critical to the workforce.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has developed guidance regarding the continued health, safety, and protection of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

To view the full list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers and to learn more about CISA's efforts, visit www.cisa.gov/coronavirus

Food Safety

Food Safety Protocol

Food Safety Protocol 

Food production facilities, distributors and wholesalers are part of our nation’s “critical infrastructure” and must remain operational to feed the country. This document, created by the food and beverage industry, recommends a consistent approach in how a company can continue operations in the event an individual has tested positive, given the global COVID-19 pandemic and high transmissibility of this respiratory virus from person to person. This guidance relies on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and will cover recommendations on:
  • Steps to be taken when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 (a confirmed case) or has symptoms associated with COVID-19—cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath (presumptive or suspected case)
  • Steps to be taken when an employee/facility visitor is exposed (in close contact) to an individual who is positive for COVID-19
Food & Drug Administration

U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets.  Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.  The CDC has created a web page dedicated to food safety.
Federal Grain Inspection Service

Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS)

  • FGIS will ensure employees understand and adhere to appropriate safety guidelines as provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All USDA employees have received guidance on protocols, preventative measures and mitigation guidelines regarding COVID-19. As always, AMS personnel, including inspectors, are instructed to stay home if they are ill. In addition, employees who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 have been instructed to stay home. 
  • FGIS is implementing mitigating strategies to reduce risk of exposure, such as: modifying standard work practices as appropriate; providing personal protective equipment (e.g., latex gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, as well as cleaning supplies); allowing staff screenings at grain elevator locations.
  • FGIS will continue to deliver inspection and weighing services. Staff providing these services in areas with closures will be equipped with credentials authorizing them as essential personnel.
  • FGIS will work closely with customers to ensure consistent communication about service issues. If needed, AMS is prepared to remedy any possible disruptions in services. For example, FGIS may enlist employees from other parts of the agency (including interior field offices, headquarters, and support divisions), Delegated States (DS) or Official Agencies (OAs) to assist with providing services. If these measures cannot be taken, FGIS will inform customers of alternative options.
FGIS Links:

Farm & Markets

USDA Service Centers

USDA Service Centers

  • Farmers and ranchers can now start making in-person appointments at several USDA Service Centers across the country as part of USDA’s phased reopening process. Other USDA Service Centers remain open for business by phone appointment only. USDA is using data to make county-level decisions regarding phased re-opening of USDA Service Centers for visitors.

  • Visit farmers.gov/coronavirus/service-center-status to check the status of your local USDA Service Center. USDA will continue using Microsoft Teams to enable producers to meet with USDA Service Center staff virtually. Download step-by-step instructions for getting started via desktop, laptop, or mobile device.


Farm Service Agency

Farm Service Agency

USDA’s Farm Service Agency is relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.

  • FSA is relaxing the loan-making process. This includes:
    • Extending the deadline for applicants to complete farm loan applications;
    • Preparing Direct Loans documents even if FSA is unable to complete lien and record searches because of closed government buildings. Once those searches are complete, FSA would close the loan; and
    • Closing loans if the required lien position on the primary security is perfected, even for loans that require additional security and those lien searches, filings, and recordings cannot be obtained because of closed government buildings.
  • FSA is extending deadlines for producers to respond to loan servicing actions, including loan deferral consideration for financially distressed and delinquent borrowers.
  • FSA will temporarily suspend loan accelerations, non-judicial foreclosures, and referring foreclosures to the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will make the determination whether to stop foreclosures and evictions on accounts under its jurisdiction.
  • Guarantee lenders can self-certify, providing their borrowers with: Subsequent-year operating loan advances on lines of credit and emergency advances on lines of credit.
  • FSA will consider guaranteed lender requests for:
    • Temporary payment deferral consideration when borrowers do not have a feasible plan reflecting that family living expenses, operating expenses, and debt can be repaid; and
    • Temporary forbearance consideration for borrowers on loan liquidation and foreclosure actions.
  • Effective April 9, 2020, USDA announced that Loan Maturity for Marketing Assistance Loans has now been extended to 12 months.  For more information, click here.
  • To assist Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL) borrowers, FSA is offering a one-time annual installment payment deferral option. No fees or prepayment penalties apply for borrowers who choose this FSFL loan flexibility option. Eligible borrowers can request a one-time only annual installment payment deferral for loans having terms of three, five, seven or ten years. The installment deferral option is not available for 12-year term loans. For more information, click here.
     
Risk Management Agency

Risk Management Agency (RMA)

The USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) is now authorizing additional flexibilities due to coronavirus while continuing to support producers, working through Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) to deliver services, including processing policies, claims and agreements. These flexibilities include:
  • Electronic Notifications Allowed for Required Reports
    • Producers may send notifications and reports electronically for written agreement issues, acreage and production reporting and upcoming sales closing dates (deadlines to buy crop insurance). Notice of the policyholder’s election may be provided over the phone with appropriate documentation of the call or using electronic methods followed by their confirmation of such election in writing (a signed, or e-signed, form) no later than July 15, 2020. 
  • Production Reporting Date Extended
    • For the 2020 crop year, AIPs may accept production reports through the earlier of the acreage reporting date (ARD) or 30 days after the production reporting date (PRD) for crops insured under the Common Crop Insurance Policy Basic Provisions with a PRD of March 15, 2020, or later. Generally, the PRD for crops insured under the Common Crop Insurance Policy Basic Provisions is the earlier of the ARD or 45 days after the cancellation date.
  • Additional Time Given and Interest Deferred on Premium Payments, Written Payment Agreements
    • AIPs are authorized to provide additional time for policyholders to make payment of premium and administrative fees. Interest accrual on premium payments and administrative fees will be waived to the earliest of an additional 60 days from the scheduled payment due date or the termination date on policies with premium billing dates between August 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020. AIPs are also authorized to provide additional time for policyholders to make payment for Written Payment Agreements due between August 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020.
Commodities Futures Trading Commission

Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)

The CFTC has issued a series of temporary, targeted relief to designated market participants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts are designed to help facilitate orderly trading and liquidity in the U.S. derivatives markets. All relief granted by the Commission due to COVID-19 can be found at https://www.cftc.gov/coronavirus.

Agriculture Workforce (H-2A Visa Program)

H-2A Visa Program

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with USDA has announced a temporary final rule to change certain H-2A requirements to help U.S. agricultural employers avoid disruptions from the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. H2-A petitioners concerned about workers being able to enter the country will be able to employ certain foreign workers in the country who have current H2-A status immediately after United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives an application. Workers will be able to start no earlier than start date listed on the original petition. Read more about this rule here.
  • DHS is also implementing temporary change to rules on H-2B guest workers to allow for those nonagricultural workers to be hired for positions in the US food supply chain. A temporary final rule published in the Federal Register on August 20, 2020 is good through April 2023 to allow those in the US food supply chain to hire current H-2B employees whose work contracts or three-year visas are expiring. Employers and workers have until December 17, 2020, to enter into new work contracts. Get more information about these changes here
  • The Federal government is taking additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world. Specifically:
    • The State Department, in consultation 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 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 (increased from 12 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.
  • USDA continues to update its website with information and guidance at www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a.
  • For solutions impacting agriculture labor visas, email AgLabor@usda.gov. This email account has been set up by USDA to receive stakeholder comments. Please copy GATeam@usarice.com so we can assist you, also.

Business Operations

Guidance for Workplace

Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) released guidance for businesses and employers to plan and respond to COVID-19. 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed a website to detail the change and relaxation of OSHA standards in regard to COVID-19. OSHA has also created guidance for preparing a workplace for the possible outbreak of COVID-19.  This document details how to reduce the impact of the virus on your workplace based on traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is increasing the availability of surface disinfectants for use against COVID-19. List N: Disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 (List N) now contains over 360 products and has enhanced functionality to allow users to sort these products by surface type and use site. EPA is also continuing to expedite the review process for new disinfectants.

EPA has also released guidance regarding the annual pesticide safety training requirements outlined in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that offers flexibility during the COVID-19 public health emergency. In response, the guidance aims to inform agricultural employers and handler employers of flexibilities available under the WPS to allow continued protection for employees and agricultural production: 

  • EPA encourages in-person training if workplace protections to maintain a healthy work environment are able to be implemented. For example, an employer may be able to provide pesticide safety training outside, in smaller than usual groups with well-spaced participants.
  • Alternatively, WPS training can be presented remotely, provided all WPS training requirements are met.
  • The employer is ultimately responsible for ensuring the training meets all requirements outlined in the WPS. For example, the training must still be presented in a manner the trainees can understand, in an environment reasonably free from distractions, and cover the full training content using EPA-approved training materials.
  • Once the training ends, the employer must document successful completion under a qualified trainer.

To read the guidance in full and to learn more about EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, visit EPA's webpage.

Internal Revenue Service

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

  • The IRS has officially announced that tax day will be delayed from April 15 to July 15.
  • The IRS has established a special section focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by the coronavirus. More information here.

Economic Impact Payments

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced that distribution of economic impact payments will begin soon and will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most people. However, some seniors and others who typically do not file tax returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment. More information here.

Department of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced its first round of published guidance to provide information to employees and employers about how each will be able to take advantage of the protections and relief offered by the FFCRA when it takes effect on April 1, 2020. 

The guidance – provided in a Fact Sheet for Employees, a Fact Sheet for Employers and a Questions and Answers document – addresses critical questions, such as how an employer must count the number of their employees to determine coverage; how small businesses can obtain an exemption; how to count hours for part-time employees; and how to calculate the wages employees are entitled to under this law.
 
Small Business Administration Loans

Small Business Administration Loans

The Small Business Administration has created a Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources webpage, including resources and information on how to apply for a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

Paycheck Protection Program

The CARES Act appropriated $349 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP is a guaranteed loan program administered by the Small Business Administration. The purpose of the program is to support small businesses and help support their payroll during the coronavirus situation.

Agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers with 500 or fewer employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States are eligible for PPP. Farms are eligible if:

  • the farm has 500 or less employees, OR
  • it fits within the revenue-based sized standard, which is on average annual receipts of $1 million.

Additionally, a farm can qualify for PPP if it meets SBA’s “alternative size standard.” The “alternative size standard” is currently:

  • a maximum net worth of the business not more than $15 million, AND
  • the average net income Federal income taxes of the business for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application be not more than $5 million.

As long as other eligibility requirements are met, small agricultural cooperatives may receive PPP loans. Other forms of cooperatives may be eligible provided they comply with all other Loan Program Requirements.

Learn more about PPP and your potential eligibility by visiting usda.gov/coronavirus and sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans

The SBA has begun to accept new Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance applications on a limited basis only to provide relief to U.S. agricultural businesses. The new eligibility is made possible as a result of the latest round of funds appropriated by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Agricultural businesses includes those businesses engaged in the production of food and fiber, ranching, and raising of livestock, aquaculture, and all other farming and agricultural related industries (as defined by section 18(b) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 647(b)).
  • SBA is encouraging all eligible agricultural businesses with 500 or fewer employees wishing to apply to begin preparing their business financial information needed for their application.
  • Applicants who have already submitted their applications will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. For agricultural businesses that submitted an EIDL application through the streamlined application portal prior to the legislative change, SBA will process these applications without the need for re-applying.
Eligible agricultural businesses may apply for the Loan Advance here. Additional information on Economic Injury Disaster Loans can be found here

Transportation

Trucking

Trucking

  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a modification on June 8 to the Emergency Declaration previously issued that goes into effect on June 15 and extends until July 14. The Emergency Declaration has been in effect since March 18 and grants relief to motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In its notice, FMCSA stated that it has concluded that there is no longer a need for emergency relief with respect to the other categories of supplies, equipment, and persons covered by the May 13 extension and expansion of Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002.  This means the regulatory relief will no longer be available for food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores, as well as other areas as of June 15. To see the full notice, click here. Beginning June 15, the regulatory relief will be limited to motor carriers and truck drivers transporting the following freight:
    • Livestock and livestock feed; 
    • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19;
    • Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants. 
  • FMCSA is releasing guidance about the impact of the COVID-19 national emergency on drug and alcohol testing requirements for employers, employees, and service agents. Click here for more information.
  • FMCSA published a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) specifically regarding actions State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLA) or commercial driver’s license holders may take during the public health crisis that are permissible under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). See the FAQ sheet here.
  • The American Trucking Association (ATA) has compiled a resource of state-specific information related to trucking and emergency declarations: ATA State Resource.
Transportation-Related Letters
Shipping/Ports

Shipping/Ports

  • The United States Coast Guard is issuing Marine Safety Information Bulletins related to COVID-19. More information here.
  • The Maritime Administration is directing mariners and maritime commerce stakeholders to the U.S. Coast Guard guidance, which will be regularly updated, and to State Department and CDC guidance on travel.
  • The Federal Maritime Commission remains operational and advises regulated entities to comply with all filing requirements and deadlines. Because employees are working electronically, send documents to FMC via email addresses for the particular office. Payments for services should be made via the online payment portal. For parties or counsel in a docketed proceeding, send filings or questions about formal complaints by email to secretary@fmc.gov.

Trade

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

  • APHIS will continue its role in facilitating trade by providing services to complete required paperwork to support the import and export of live animals and plants and animal products. To support social distancing and protect the health and safety of employees, whenever possible, APHIS will seek to process these documents electronically. 
  • For more information about what services are available in your local area, please see the following resources:
 
APHIS Links:
Foreign Agricultural Service 

Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)

  • The Foreign Agricultural Service continues monitoring and reporting on U.S. agricultural exports, global agricultural trade, and trade policy priorities such as implementation of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement.
  • COVID-19 related updates from FAS can be found here.

Export Credit Guarantee Program

  •  USDA will provide coverage for exports under sight letters of credit (LC) without refinancing under the Commodity Credit Corporation’s (CCC) Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102). With a sight LC without refinancing, payment occurs immediately or “at sight” once the commodity is exported and the U.S. and foreign financial institutions review and approve all applicable documents. Such guarantees will be available for applications submitted in accordance with 7 C.F.R. 1493.70; exporters may request sight LC coverage when applying for a payment guarantee by selecting this option as the term length of credit being extended in accordance with 7 C.F.R. 1493.70(a)(17). CCC’s obligations will be the same as stated in 7 C.F.R. 1493.180. Guarantee fees for a sight letter of credit are available on the FAS website at https://www.fas.usda.gov/programs/export-credit-gurantee-program-gsm-102/gsm-fee-schedule
Export-Import Bank of the United States

Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM)

  • EXIM announced relief measures for its U.S. exporters, especially U.S. small business exporters, as well as financial institutions related to the COVID-19 outbreak. More information here
Border Closings/Travel Advisories

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

DHS has released joint statements with each Canada and Mexico in regards to COVID-19 and the Canadian and Mexican borders. More details can be found below:

U.S. Department of State

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. More information here

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in response to COVID-19. This new program will take several actions to assist farmers, ranchers, and consumers.

Direct payments will be based on actual losses due to prices and markets impacted by COVID-19. Commodity procurement will be focused on beef, dairy, pork, fruits and vegetables. More known details are available here.

USA Rice has been closely monitoring rice prices throughout the pandemic, many of which have noticeably increased over the past several months.  Of particular note is the 70 cent drop in southern medium grain prices from January to February, which according to USDA’s metric of a 5 percent or greater loss would trigger a payment.  USA Rice will continue working with USDA to provide information and details as officials continue developing CFAP.

USDA also announced commodity procurement details, which include purchases of $100 million per month for fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month for dairy, and $100 million per month in meat products.  At this point, rice will not be included in these purchases.

Federal & State Government Actions

State Government Actions

Additional Resources

USA Rice News

USA Rice COVID-19 News