USDA announced a new grant program that will provide up to $600 in relief payments directly to frontline farm workers and meatpacking workers.

During a media call, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said $700 million in competitive grant funding will be available through the new Farm and Food Workers Relief grant program, which provides support to frontline food workers and defrays costs for expenses such as personal protective equipment, dependent care and unpaid medical leave during the pandemic.

“It’s important that we recognize that doing this essential work has come not only at a potential physical risk, but also a financial risk,” Vilsack said during the call.

To also recognize the essential role of frontline grocery workers, USDA set aside $20 million for at least one pilot program to support grocery workers and test options for reaching them in the future.

The new program is funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

The media call also included comments from United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres and United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone.

The Request for Application (RFA) will be announced in early fall and will be open for 60 days. Additional information and technical assistance for applying to these grants and program updates will be provided by USDA when the application period opens.

Funds will be awarded through grants to state agencies, Tribal entities, and nonprofit organizations serving farmworkers and meatpacking workers ranging from $5 million to $50 million.

Eligible entities must demonstrate the capacity to reimburse farmworkers and meatpacking workers for up to $600 for expenses incurred due to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages grant applications that demonstrate trusted communications networks with farmworkers, 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. Applicants should be able to describe how they will partner with smaller organizations to facilitate financial relief to such populations.

Vilsack said it could be a year or two for all the resources to be distributed.

USDA also announced a separate $700 million suite of pandemic safety and response grants for producers, processors, farmers markets, distributors, and seafood processors and vessels impacted by COVID-19.