A little over a week ago the CDC issued guidance for agricultural operations (Link below). In recent weeks the number of cases of Covid have been increasing significantly. Some say it is due to the increased testing others say it is spreading rapidly as the economy moves back to ‘normal’. I don’t know either way but anecdotally I have been told by ginners that have family working in hospitals that they are seeing more cases than they did at the ‘peak’ and that the cases are younger people. I’ve also been told that a lot of the positive tests are younger people with few or no symptoms. All this means is that there is a lot we don’t know but that the virus is still out there and we can’t let our guard down.
What does this all mean for gins? I’m not sure other than as we move toward ginning season, we should be prepared for this to still be here when we start in to the crop. As this virus mutates and moves through the community, no one knows whether it will go away or reduce it’s ability to make people very sick. Gins that bring in a number of workers from other places need to be especially careful. The deadly nature of this bug seems to be diminishing some but it still will kick some butts. Many folks that get even moderate symptoms seem to have lasting effects for weeks after the active infection. I’m explaining all this to say you don’t want to have this virus move through your crew at a critical time. Losing part, or worse all, of your crew in the middle of gin season could be very difficult to deal with.
The CDC has issued GUIDANCE FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKERS AND EMPLOYERS. Please take some time to read the guidance and follow the workplace assessment and share with your employees. Come up with a plan to handle a worker that gets infected. Come up with a plan for if the virus moves through your housing or where your workers live. Encourage them to know what causes spread and how to handle it in their own community.
Now is the time to make a plan.
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.
Earlier this year the USCIS announced a new I-9 form. The I-9 is the document that employers must use every time they put a new employee on the payroll. We discussed this in an earlier blog post when the new form was announced in January. The M-274 is the manual that goes along with the I-9 and contains a lot of really good information that helps when understanding how the I-9 works.
Probably more importantly, the M-274 explains what to do and what not to do when filling one out or having a new employee fill one out.
Please find the new M-274 at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central/handbook-employers-m-274
Remember the US Federal Government is the only place a 2 page form can have 10+ pages of instructions and a 80+ page manual.
Give us a call if you have questions.
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.