Labor, infrastructure, nutrition to highlight United Fresh’s Washington Conference
The past year introduced many changes to “business as usual” in the produce industry. Perhaps one of the most pronounced shifts occurred on the advocacy front, as meetings with members of Congress transitioned from in-person on Capitol Hill to virtual on computer screens across the country.
This September, United Fresh welcomes the produce industry back to the nation’s capital for the renowned annual Washington Conference, taking place Sept. 20-22 in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of fresh produce leaders will gather once again in person to meet with key policymakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, where they will address the most pressing public policy matters, including ag labor reform, infrastructure, transportation, nutrition policy and more.
“The Washington Conference is the greatest tool our produce industry has when talking about policy and regulatory change for the benefit of the entire fresh produce supply chain,” said Bret Erickson, Senior Vice President for Business Affairs, Little Bear Produce and member of United Fresh Government Relations Council. “From seed to table, this event is the singular platform that brings our industry together to speak up as an entire community at once, to fight for changes that we all need for our businesses to stay sustainable for the long term.”
Defying the notion that bipartisanship cannot exist in Washington on issues as complicated as immigration reform, the Chairwoman of House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) reintroduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act earlier this year. Joined by many of their colleagues who supported similar efforts in 2019, the bill has received broad support. Nearly identical to the bipartisan agreement reached in 2019, the bill is supported by both labor and industry. The legislation is based on three basic principles: Addressing the legal status of agricultural workers currently here in the United States; ensuring a future flow of workers; and ensuring the enforcement of existing law.
Transportation and infrastructure
One of the most important lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, is that our supply chain is fragile and susceptible to challenges both known and unforeseen. No matter how produce is moved in the United States — by road, water or rail – there are many transportation challenges that the government must address. The pandemic also has reminded us of how integral the produce supply chain is to our country. A group of Democrats and Republicans worked together to develop a bipartisan transportation and infrastructure bill that would infuse billions of dollars into our country’s infrastructure, which is in desperate need of such resources.
Not prioritizing fresh fruits and vegetables in USDA emergency feeding fails to address the unfortunate reality in America of diet-related chronic disease. Millions of low-income women and children saw a boost in benefits to purchase more fruits and vegetables through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress this past spring, included a temporary increase to $35 per month, per participant, through September 2021. The monthly amount allocated for fruits and vegetables before the boost was at $11 for women and $9 for children. The increase is intended to provide additional hunger relief and improved nutrition quality as low-income Americans continue to struggle from the impact of the economic fallout from the pandemic.
During COVID-19, Congress authorized additional SNAP benefits to be made available to school-aged children who no longer had access to school meals. Extending fruit and vegetable benefits to children participating in SNAP would go a long way in improving dietary quality and providing additional demand for fresh produce in both rural and urban areas that can lack access. The economic benefits of establishing more fresh produce sales to retailers, including small independent grocery stores, should not be understated.
In addition to Congressional meetings, the Washington Conference features a Produce Advocacy Bootcamp for newer attendees, workshops detailing the most critical public policy issues, general sessions with national leaders and networking, as the industry comes together to voice their impact on jobs, growth and meeting America’s need for food and nourishment.
No matter your priorities, the most influential public policy event of the year in produce has a variety of opportunities to advance your business.