The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $700 million grant program Tuesday designed to give economic relief to food workers hit hard by the pandemic. Another $20 million is being set aside to pilot a program to support grocery workers, the USDA said.
The money will be divvied up among state agencies, Native American tribes and nonprofits. Those entities will reimburse farmworkers and meatpacking workers for COVID-19 expenses up to $600.
The USDA announcement acknowledges food workers often had to pay out-of-pocket for their PPE, to pay for extra childcare, or to quarantine themselves from family. Others had to take unpaid leave if they contracted COVID-19 or were caring for a sick family member. The money is meant to reimburse them for those types of costs.
Agencies and nonprofits can apply for a grant from the USDA. To receive a piece of the $700 million in funding, they have to prove they’ll be able to distribute the money to hard-to-reach, hard hit workers.
“This Labor Day, let us not forget the sacrifices farm workers made as essential workers in order to keep our food supply intact during the pandemic,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, United Farm Workers Foundation’s executive director, in a press release.
“Meatpacking plants experienced some of the most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks when the pandemic first began and there are few workers more deserving of our thanks and support,” said United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone.
The announcement of new federal aid comes just as other benefits expired Monday, including the $300 weekly boost to unemployment.