WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Sept. 7 that it plans to invest $700 million in competitive grant funding that will be available in its new Farm and Food Workers Relief (FFWR) program. The agency said it was designed to help farm and meatpacking workers with pandemic-related health and safety costs.

The FFWR program will be funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and is part of the USDA’s Build Back Better initiative for COVID-19 recovery.

“As we celebrate the social and economic achievements of our nation’s workers on Labor Day, we recognize that our farmworkers, meatpacking workers, and grocery workers overcame unprecedented challenges and took on significant personal risk to ensure Americans could feed and sustain their families throughout the pandemic,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “They deserve recognition for their resilience and financial support for their efforts to meet personal and family needs while continuing to provide essential services. This grant program is another component of this Administration’s efforts to ensure assistance to alleviate the effects of the pandemic is distributed to those who need it most.”

Also, the agency announced that $20 million would be set aside for front-line grocery workers to support them and test options for reaching those workers in future grants.

The relief money aims to defray costs for reasonable and necessary personal, family or living expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic like personal protective equipment (PPE), dependent care and expenses associated with quarantines and testing related to the virus.

Application requests will be announced early in the Fall and will be open for 60 days, the agency said. Additional information and technical assistance for applying to these grants and program updates will be provided by USDA when the application period opens.

“America’s meatpacking and grocery workers have been on the frontlines since the pandemic began, risking their health every day to keep our food supply secure during this crisis. This new USDA grant program recognizes the incredible service and sacrifices of our country’s essential food workers by providing the critical financial support they need,” said Marc Perrone, president of the UFCW International. “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. Across the country, meatpacking workers have had to use their own money to pay for personal protective equipment to stay safe on the job, shoulder the burden of increased childcare costs, take on expenses from COVID-19 testing and quarantining, and much more.”

Funding for this program will be awarded through grants to state agencies, Tribal entities and non-profit organizations that serve farmworkers and meatpacking workers ranging from $5 to $50 million. Eligible entities must demonstrate the capacity to reimburse farm and meatpacking workers for up to $600 for expenses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The USDA said it encourages grant applications that demonstrate trusted communications networks with farm workers, meatpacking workers, and/or front-line grocery workers, as well as strong financial controls.

“The grant requires applicants to show connectedness to hard-to-reach worker populations either directly or in partnerships with other local organizations,” the agency wrote. “Applicants should be able to describe how they will partner with smaller organizations to facilitate financial relief to such populations.”