Addressing hunger, inequity and climate change represent three priorities of USDA under the Biden administration. But first and foremost, the agency is using its resources to respond to the pandemic.
“We cannot transform our food system, we cannot get our economy back on track and we cannot build rural America unless we can contain and end the COVID-19 pandemic that is wreaking havoc on our families, our communities, our economy. This is priority No. 1,” stated Katherine Ferguson, USDA chief of staff during the 97th USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.
More than 300 USDA employees have been deployed throughout the U.S. setting up COVID vaccine clinics, providing health expertise and offering its facilities.
Made more prevalent because of COVID, USDA is also responding to the crisis of hunger by providing food assistance to vulnerable families and communities.
As a part of the COVID relief package just passed in December, Congress boosted monthly Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits by 15% and provided new funding for food banks, and school and childcare meals.
“The pandemic has made it clear that our current federal nutrition safety net, while strong, can do more to promote healthier diets and advance racial equity,” said Sara Bleich, USDA senior adviser for COVID-19. “It is also the case that simultaneously addressing hunger and poor nutrition is part of the long struggle against structural racism and poverty.”
Congressional Agricultural Committee leadership shared their commitment to these and other issues affecting agriculture as well as a commitment to bipartisanship.
“A new year means a new Congress … and I intend to maintain our committee’s strong tradition of bipartisanship” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural Committee. “That’s how we get things done. And we have a big job ahead of us between volatile crop prices, a lack of certainty around trade, gaps in our food supply chain and the need to keep our workers safe.”
“One of the foremost things we have to do is get our heads around this climate change,” added Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, chairman of the House Agricultural Committee. “Nobody, no entity, no industry is impacted more from climate and weather than agriculture - our food production, our food security. And so that is our first and foremost responsibility.”
With 2020 in the rearview mirror and the start of planting season on the horizon, farmers will continue to navigate hurdles and do their job every single day.
“I believe the United States is on the precipice of transforming our food system,” said Ferguson. “And that transformation will be led by our farmers, our ranchers, our producers and all of those living and working in rural America.”