USDA FSA updated their FAQ page that clarified one very pertinent issues to producers and ginners in the Southeast. In reading the USDA Handbook for the CFAP program another issue that has generated a few questions was also answered.
The first deals with contracts where the cotton was delivered but had not been priced. The FAQ page https://www.farmers.gov/cfap/faq discusses and includes a chart that outlines what is and what is not eligible for payment under this program. It clearly says that cotton that has been delivered but not priced IS ELIGIBLE for the CFAP program. This is a question we’ve gotten several time.
The second question deals with cotton harvested after January 15th. If it is harvested after Jan 15, it will be added to the production and the non-priced production as of Jan 15.
More as we get additional information.
During this Coronavirus pandemic, almost everything seems to be changing on a daily or weekly basis, this change is also effecting how employers handle the requirements of OSHA Recordkeeping. OSHA Recordkeeping is the standard that guides employers on how they must record any work-related injury and/or illness. This information is to be included on your OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 forms. This article will focus on how employers record confirmed COVID-19 cases and how to determine if the exposure is work-related.
The first guidance from OSHA regarding COVID-19 and recordkeeping requirements was issued on April 10. This early guidance was very vague and confusing which has led to new guidance that came out on May 19 and will go into effect on May 26, 2020. The current guidance requires most all employers to determine whether confirmed cases of COVID 19 are work-related when completing the OSHA 300 Logs listing injuries and illnesses. In accordance with existing regulations, the only employers that are exempt from maintaining such injury and illness records are those with 10 or fewer employees. Under the new guidance, the key question remains whether a case of COVID-19 is work-related. OSHA continues to acknowledge that it will be difficult to establish that a particular case is work-related due to potential exposure both in and out of the workplace. This current guidance places additional obligations on employers to conduct analysis and to make a reasonable determination of work-relatedness.
WARNING: There is a lot of snarky commenting in this article. Not the most professional thing I’ve written… Sorry in advance.
The sign-up for the USDA program to help farmers arising from the coronavirus pandemic is called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. It has a LOT of moving parts and I’m certainly not going to get into all of them right now. What I’d like to do is to clear up a bit of what producers can expect for their cotton. They may have other crops both speciality and non-specialty but I’m going to focus on cotton for this article.
I think (opinion) this program was written by a newly graduated engineer. There’s a good bit of justification for how they got there but it is so complicated it is beginning to look like a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine (game of MouseTrap?). There are a couple steps and sites you need to be aware of. The first place to go is to www.farmers.gov/cfap . This is the main site for the program and has a lot of general information. On this page you will find the payment calculator and forms. Toward the bottom of this page is the next link. www.farmers.gov/cfap/non-speciality . This site is where you get information for cotton and other typical row-crops.
A lot of concern has been raised about the Agricultural relief program that was announced late last week. There are not many details about the program available but rest assured your organizations are positioned to work with USDA when opportunities arise. Please see the article below directly from this weeks Cotton’s Week from the National Cotton Council.
Broad-Based Producer Assistance Outlined
Late on April 17 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced during the White House coronavirus briefing the general parameters of USDA’s initial relief to producers suffering losses from the COVID-19 impacts. The $19 billion package includes $3 billion in food purchases for donation to food banks and other feeding programs. These purchases will consist primarily of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat products. The remaining $16 billion will be used for direct payments to producers of row crops, specialty crops, dairy and livestock. The overall funding allocation among these categories is not finalized, but the initial indication is approximately $4 billion for row crops, including cotton.
For a commodity to qualify for support it must have suffered at least a 5% price decline between January 1 and mid-April of 2020. At this time, it is the NCC’s understanding that the payments will be determined based on two calculations: 1) 85% of the price decline between January 1 and mid-April and 2) 30% of the projected price decline through the next two quarters of 2020. Production eligible for support will be determined based on the quantity of the commodity that is still “at risk” as of January 1. At this time, determining payments to a producer is not possible given the lack of available details for the relevant prices and eligible quantities. USDA also announced a payment limit of $125,000 per commodity will apply with a total, overall maximum payment limit per person or entity of $250,000 if the farm has multiple commodities that qualify for payment. There also is an adjusted gross income test.
The NCC is in regular communication with Congressional offices and the Administration about the remaining details and unanswered questions from USDA’s announcement.
USDA is in the process of developing the regulation to implement the program and then must get the regulation approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. USDA plans to begin the signup process sometime in May with the goal of issuing payments beginning in late May or June.
The expectation is that USDA will utilize the $14 billion in additional Commodity Credit Corporation funding available in July for additional assistance. The NCC already is working with Congress on what needs to be included for multiple U.S. cotton industry segments in the next round of relief provided by Congress and the Administration.
Over the past few weeks we have not given a lot of space to OSHA and the impact of the Coronavirus in the OSHA world. I don’t plan on outlining all of the various documents OSHA has put out in the past few weeks. Suffice it to say they are not sitting around.
There are a couple main points that you probably need to take away. First, OSHA will be using enforcement discretion when it comes to violations impacted by the COVID emergency. An example of this may be where you tried to get your lift truck drivers re-certified and use an outside vendor to do this. You may not be allowing outside vendors or those vendors may not be going onsite anywhere. These kind of violations will be appropriately handled as long as the employer makes a good faith effort to comply. ONLY violations that do not put the employees in danger of death or serious harm will be handled with enforcement discretion and then only when the employer makes good faith efforts to comply but could not because of the Coronavirus emergency.
The next thing is that OSHA is not making as many on-site inspections. Cases such as fatal accidents and coronavirus related complaints will draw an on-site inspection but most will be handled in other ways or delayed until after the emergency has passed. When OSHA has to go on-site it has issued guidance to its employees on ppe and best practices when they do go out in the field.
Finally, if a complaint is made regarding COVID-19, OSHA is considering whether the employer is using best practices and following CDC and department of health guidance with their employees. If an employer is not following good practices to mitigate the virus, it is possible for OSHA to write up a General Duty Clause citation. So do your best and don’t let your guard down.
OSHA’s full Coronavirus page can be found here.
As agriculture we and our employees are considered critical infrastructure. As the virus makes its way through the population, whether locked down or not, some of our employees will inevitably be exposed to someone (family member, close friend etc.) that has the virus. Being critical infrastructure, and staying working during the healthcare emergency, losing employees is not a great option but exposing your other employees to the virus isn’t a good option either.
We’ve seen what can happen in an environment such as a meat packing plant employees start to share the virus. No one wants a cotton gin to be the next hotspot of Covid-19.
The CDC has developed guidance to help critical infrastructure workers and employers deal with this situation…a situation you will have to deal with at some point. Please refer to the link below. Also download THIS DOCUMENT which is a PDF of some of the same information on how to handle these asymptomatic people.
CDC GUIDANCE ON CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE EMPLOYEES
In addition to CDC guidance for critical infrastructure, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (there are likely other sources as well) has developed a poster/guidance for employers where workers are housed in semi-communal setting such as H-2A or other migrant worker housing. Some other states are considering regulatory approach to such situations.
Please download and review the document from the Georgia Department of Ag HERE… Spanish here