Coronavirus, Food, and Connecticut

Updated 2:11 PM 7/14/20

This page is intended to primarily collect and share resources regarding the spread and containment of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), especially as it relates to food access and the food supply in Connecticut. It is not intended as a general prevention/health page, although we link to general resources at the bottom of this page. You can contribute resources to this page by emailing coordinator@ctfoodsystemalliance.com.

Food Access and Other Basic Needs | Connecticut Farms | Food Business | Policy Responses | Community Responses | News and Opinion | General Information

Food Access and Other Basic Needs During Coronavirus

  • CT Department of Social Services has relaxed work requirements and extended eligibility for SNAP. Renewals due March through May will be automatically renewed to September through November. See full details at their site. Additionally, many phone interviews, and the ‘ABAWD’ (able-bodied adults without dependent children) work requirements have been waived for the duration of the public emergency.
    • The CT DSS approved new SNAP food benefits for children in free and reduced-price school lunch program With all Connecticut preK-12 schools moved to online for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, Governor Lamont announced federal approval to provide $9.95 million in SNAP benefits to children eligible for the free and reduced-price meals program (otherwise known as Pandemic EBT). See the full details on their site.
  • CT Department of Education has authorized two Emergency Meal Programs in accordance with federal requirements. 1) COVID-19 Emergency Meal Program Limited to Students Attending School in Specific Districts. 2) COVID-19 Community-wide Emergency Meal Program for Children. Refer to these lists regularly as locations continue to be added.
  • End Hunger Connecticut!’s SNAP call center remains in full operation to help residents with applications, redeterminations, and other assistance, but they are experiencing an influx of calls, so you may need to leave a message. English and Spanish support. 866-974-7627. Check hours and more information at www.ctsnap.org
  • Hartford and Tolland Counties: Foodshare is continuing to supply food to partner food pantries and meal programs, but it is recommended that you call a specific site to make sure they are still open. More information is available here and the mobile pantry schedule is here.
  • Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New London, New Haven, and Windham Counties: Connecticut Food Bank is the food bank serving this region. Their mobile pantry has some cancelled locations, and the schedule is available here. You can also call 203-741-9751 for schedule updates.
    • The City of New Haven has launched its Food Resources Site & Interactive Map providing updates on food distributions in both English and Spanish. You can find more information on their website, or their interactive map.
    • Bridgeport Public Schools has Emergency Food Service sites listed on Nutrislice. View their flyer for more details.
  • Call 211 or visit www.211ct.org to locate food pantries, BUT double check hours by calling the pantries with the listed number. Foodshare is updating 211 information daily.

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Connecticut Farms and Coronavirus

Farms and farmers’ markets are considered essential business, so they can continue to operate. You can buy Connecticut-grown produce, meat, dairy, and eggs to support farms through this difficult time.

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Food Businesses and Coronavirus

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Policy Responses

This section will summarize proposed and enacted policy responses (such as a rent freeze) by a government (city, state, or federal) to the coronavirus outbreak. Below are some policy proposals or newly enacted laws that decrease economic insecurity.

Food Research & Action Center Policy Recommendations include adapting Disaster SNAP and other federal programs to adapt during disrupted school meals; increasing SNAP benefit amounts; additional funding for the Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living for more meals and meal service flexibility; and more. Policy action alerts are also posted there.

Federal

State (Connecticut)

State (other states)

Politico is tracking state level policy responses and preventative measures.

County/Municipal (outside Connecticut)
The Healthy Food Policy Project is tracking municipal policies about food and the coronavirus.

  • Various locations are implementing and/or considering moratoriums on evictions, rent freezes, and suspension of mortgage payments to help households and businesses during the coronavirus outbreak. This includes: Multnomah County in Oregon; Seattle, Washington; New York City; and others.
  • The City of Boston announced a new fund to help families affected by the outbreak.
  • LA County is releasing inmates from jails to reduce crowding and directing law enforcement to cite and release rather than arrest.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota is waiving late fees for food, taxi, liquor, wine, beer, or catering licenses during the pandemic.
  • Atlanta, Georgia has allocated $7 million dollars for emergency assistance including children’s food programs, senior food programs, homelessness response, small business support, and other needs.

Municipal (inside Connecticut)

  • Hartford and New Haven have prohibited gatherings of more than ten people. Like many public gathering bans, there are flexibilities for food pantries, grocery stores, and other food sources.
  • New Haven is using one of the schools that is currently closed to house homeless people diagnosed with COVID-19 who are not sick enough to be in hospitals.
  • Waterbury opened two new coronavirus testing sites for free, walk-up testing without needing a doctor’s note, or signs of symptoms. In addition, Hartford has seven mobile testing sites up and running under the same conditions. These testing sites are operated by Trinity Health of New England. More information can be found on their website.

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Community Responses – Ways You Can Help

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News and Opinion Related to Food, Basic Needs, and Coronavirus

People of Color are at Greater Risk of COVID-19. Systemic Racism in the Food System Plays a Role. (5/5 – Civil Eats)

“More than two weeks before Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a March 24 stay-at-home order to stop the spread of coronavirus, Paige Jackson got sick.

‘I was having a really bad migraine—to the point where it was hard to keep my eyes open,’ Jackson, who lives in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, recalled.

An employee of an Amazon store and a restaurant, Jackson initially shrugged off her symptoms. But the headache, which lasted days, turned into body aches. When she developed a cough and a 101-degree fever, Jackson went to urgent care, where the staff prescribed medications to treat the flu and sent her home. Her symptoms, however, worsened, and the 26-year-old spent several days in the hospital, ultimately receiving a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Today, Jackson is ‘feeling 100 percent better.’ But as an African American, a frontline worker, and a resident of a state hit hard by coronavirus, Jackson knows that she’s one of the lucky ones. According to a Johns Hopkins University analysis of 26 states that have provided racial data about the virus, Black people make up 34 percent of COVID deaths, despite comprising just 13.4 percent of the U.S. population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that African Americans account for 33 percent of COVID hospitalizations, largely because Black people have high rates of chronic health conditions—called comorbidities—that weaken the immune system and make them more vulnerable to the virus. But much less discussed is how food, class, and race have intersected in ways that perpetuate the health disparities and social inequities unfolding today.”

How Fostering Empathy for the People Who Feed Us Could Change Our Food System (6/3 – Civil Eats)

“As much of our nation confronts deeply entrenched, systemic racism, it has also become clearer than ever that foundational systems such as education, housing, healthcare, food—capitalism as a whole—have cared for some, but not for all. Over the last few months, as the pandemic has blazed through the country, we have seen the system’s deficiencies and fragilities: from dumped milk and euthanized animals to growing rates of hunger and a relentless push by the Trump administration to restrict access to the nation’s largest food assistance program.

This fraught, historic moment reminds us the past is prologue, and gives us the opportunity to not only recognize the fissures, but better understand the exploitation woven into this system intended to nourish and sustain. These breakdowns invite us to reconsider the people who Chef José Andrés characterized on Twitter as those ‘we treat as invisible when [the system] is working and only notice when it’s not.'”

Opinion: How to Crisis-Proof Our Food System (5/13 – Politico)

“Before the current pandemic, few Americans put much thought into our food system. The more privileged among us could find anything we wanted at the grocery store and could comfortably afford to feed our families. Some of us ate out multiple times each week and could choose among many different cuisines and eateries. We didn’t need to think about what went into growing our food, how the supply chains that delivered our meats and vegetables functioned, or the economic and safety realities of those who harvested, delivered, and prepared our meals.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has laid bare vulnerabilities that have long plagued our food system. We now see the downside of a nationalized supply system in which farmers, unable to deliver their crops directly to local markets, are forced to plow needed produce back into the ground. We now see the serious problem with the nation’s meat supply chain relying heavily on just a handful of processing facilities, as Covid-19 has spiked among their workers.”

“Crucially, we now see more clearly how the food system was already failing many from less privileged backgrounds—including those working low-paying jobs, households without access to a grocery store, and communities of color who, due to systemic inequality, are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, 40 million Americans weren’t sure where their next meal would come from. Many others worked hard jobs in the food chain, on wages that barely brought them to the poverty line. Not only were these people unrecognized for their importance to our lives, they were often invisible.”

Want to Fight Rising Food Insecurity? Listen to People Who’ve Been Hungry. (5/8 – Civil Eats)

The nation’s food assistance programs—including SNAP, WIC, and school meal programs—are among the last vestiges of a safety net that have been under attack for decades. Now, the pandemic threatens to tear them apart. Although the first major COVID-19 relief bill included more than $1 billion in food assistance, the COVID-19 relief bill that passed in April failed to increase monthly SNAP benefits; Democratic lawmakers are calling for the government to increase those benefits by at least 30 percent.”

“Still, there are plenty of signs that much more help is needed. In addition to the stunningly long lines outside food pantries and community kitchens, a new survey from the University of Arkansas found that more than 38 percent of people were food insecure (up from 11 percent one year ago), and a new study from The Hamilton Project found that children as well as adults are going without food because of food insecurity. School districts, food pantries, and community groups are also stepping in with creative ways to quickly and safely get food to families who need it.”

Farming in a Pandemic Episode 6: Amanda Freund, Freund’s Family Farm (5/1 – American Farmland Trust)

“In this new web series from American Farmland Trust, we sit down (over video of course!) with small farmers and food system workers from across the country to talk about how the coronavirus crisis is impacting their farms, markets, and lives. Dairy farms across the northeast are struggling due to the COVID-19 crisis. While there is plenty of milk being produced, the lack of direct sales has caused a market disruption for those dairy farms that sell directly to schools and restaurants. On Episode 6 of “Farming in a Pandemic,” Amanda Freund of Freund’s Family Farm in Connecticut talks with Working Lands Alliance director Chelsea Gazillo about how dairy farms are adjusting to the new supply chain demands.”

Foodshare Extends Drive-Thru Food Distribution at Rentschler Field (4/22 – NBC Connecticut)

“Foodshare, a regional foodbank, is extending its free drive-through food distribution operation at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, which was launched  to help families in Hartford and Tolland counties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was scheduled to run April 20-24 and Foodshare said it will continue the drive-thru for the next two weeks because of the overwhelming response from the community.”

Four Ways COVID-19 will Change Food Systems and Food Security (4/2 – Resilience)
“It’s too early to have precise answers on the coronavirus pandemic’s long-term impacts on the ways food is produced, processed, distributed, eaten, recycled and appreciated.”
“There’s a simple reason why no-one can predict specifics of the long-term food impacts of the coronavirus crisis yet. Food system outcomes will depend almost entirely on whether the political, health and media powers-that-be continue to control, limit and focus health communications around COVID-19 — as if it’s strictly a matter of a virus that should only be managed by social distancing to reduce contagion. If people stay with this disease prevention script — which is what ‘flattening the curve’ is about — we may never proceed to a flat-out engagement with health promotion, supposedly the central mission of public health.
“Whatever happens, we can be prepared for food impacts of the coronavirus pandemic by asking the following four questions: 1. What will the likely impacts be on individual behaviors affecting food? 2. What will the likely impacts be on changes in collective behavior and popular culture affecting food? 3. What will the likely impacts be on institutional changes affecting food? 4. What will the likely impacts be on infrastructures and public policies affecting food?”
“Over my 75 years of eating food and 25 years working on good-food-for-all movements, I’ve never seen personal behavior changes at the pace or on the scale we’ve witnessed in recent weeks…A fraction of one percent of the financial savings from preventing food-borne illnesses could easily fund a citizen- and expert-based food policy council for every local government around the world.”
Food is social. We did not evolve to eat alone, at desks, in a car, in front of a screen. We evolved to eat in social situations with other people. A week after social distancing was adopted in British Columbia, Trevor Hancock, a former Medical Officer of Health from Toronto Public Health’s glory days, wrote a newspaper column on new research revealing that the health of ordinary people actually improved during the darkest days of the 1930s Depression — when poverty pushed people to spend more time on simple pleasures with other people. Perhaps Depression-style efforts to support one another to survive tough times caused by the coronavirus pandemic will rekindle these human instincts and reverse the social distancing promoted by neoliberalism as a foundation stone of public policy. The public health strategy called Social Determinants of Health needs to be reaffirmed once the coronavirus pandemic is over.”
“Oddly enough, many governments now in power were elected on anti-government agendas. Notwithstanding this, almost all of them have recognized that government is the first and last resort during a disruptive health emergency. Where else are people to find support for the costs of food and rent? Conventional social security practices have suddenly been exposed as obsolete for a number of reasons. Conventional social security programs take weeks before payouts are made. More important, almost all social security benefits are linked to people in permanent jobs — jobs that are no longer the norm for young people, small and independent entrepreneurs, members of racialized minorities, the unemployed, people with disabilities, and others reliant for their incomes on participation in the ‘precariat.'”
The essence of social security programs of the last 75 years is that they divided people into bureaucratic categories. Some people got workers compensation for workplace accidents, some people got unemployment insurance, certain people got disability allowances, certain people got welfare, certain people got corporate welfare, certain people got veterans’ benefits, certain people got food stamps, certain people got free school lunches, certain people got fringe benefits at work, and so on. Each group fought for its benefits and questioned the benefits that other groups got — the old game of divide and conquer. These divisions need to be replaced by a universal program based on universal needs, which will cover many of its costs just by dispensing with the unproductive bureaucratic and administrative costs of today’s obsolete systems. Many of the aid and recovery programs being developed in the heat of the moment today point in this direction. In the clear light of day after the pandemic, the logic of universal programs will have a chance to prevail. This will have a breathtaking impact on food security.
A longstanding principle of public health reformers — Health in All Policies — has been adopted…To grasp how significant this is, imagine that, at this moment, some 500,000 people around the world suffered from a serious diet-related chronic disease or syndrome such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease or cancer. No need to imagine. It’s true. The same number of people who have suffered from coronavirus. Can you imagine health and medical officials being given the reins of power to tell people how to act to prevent highly-preventable diet-related chronic diseases and syndromes?
“It’s also going to become very clear in the hindsight from Covid19 that food workers generally need to be accorded the respect and protection of other people called to be frontline workers during emergencies.”
This reality transforms the discussion on the importance of local food in the global north. It does far more than provide fresh food and boost local agriculture. By boosting urban and peri-urban agriculture we prevent the kind of widespread habitat destruction in the Global South by aggressive industrial agriculture that creates breeding grounds for new species of viral diseases.

Grocery Workers Keep America Fed, While Fearing For Their Own Safety (4/2 – NPR)
Not all Americans can stay home during the pandemic. Millions of essential workers are showing up for their jobs at warehouses, food processing plants, delivery trucks and grocery checkout lines. Work that is often low-paid, and comes with few protections, is now suddenly much more dangerous. America has a new appreciation for these workers. Bill Osborn, a dairy clerk at a Giant in La Plata, Md., says he never used to be thanked for his job. Ever.
For a shopper, stepping into a grocery store is a necessary risk they might face once a week, or even less frequently. For a grocery store clerk, that exposure happens every day — over and over again — as a parade of people pass by them just a few feet away.
Many grocery workers are not guaranteed any sick leave under normal conditions, and sick leave during the pandemic is sometimes contingent on a positive test for COVID-19, which can be difficult to obtain given test shortages.
Some corporations that usually resist calls for sick leave and higher pay have changed their tone in this pandemic, says John Logan, a professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University…But he notes that companies’ policy changes are temporary, just for the duration of this crisis. It’s an open question whether all this new appreciation will last.

Covid Concerns Spur Lawsuit Against ICE (4/2 – New Haven Independent)
“Juan Pablo Rojas Ceballos looks out at the single, open room he shares with four dozen fellow inmates in a federal immigration detention center and sees a recipe for disaster. Bunk beds spaced three feet apart. Seven cafeteria tables overcrowded at every meal. Soap that’s so diluted it slips through one’s hands like water. And a pandemic that wreaks the most havoc in close, unsanitary quarters just waiting to break inside. A newly filed class action lawsuit by a Yale Law School clinic agrees—and is seeking his and other detainees’ release before Covid catches them first. Ceballos, a 21-year-old local Colombian immigrant, has spent the past four months locked up in Unit A of the Bristol County House of Corrections (BCHOC) in North Dartmouth, Mass. On March 27, the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) at Yale Law School joined the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and the Brazilian Worker Center in filing a class action lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, Bristol County Superintendent Steven Souza, and top federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. The complaint alleges that the dozens of detainees like Ceballos who are held in civil immigration detention at Bristol are at undue risk of contracting and suffering from the novel coronavirus. That’s because of the alleged close proximity in which inmates are confined, an inadequate provision of soap, toilet paper, and other basic cleaning supplies, the admission of new detainees who are not properly tested or screened for Covid-19, and the government’s refusal to release detainees with pre-existing medical conditions who are uniquely vulnerable to being harmed by the virus.”
ICE’s coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage…reads in part: ‘The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities. Since the onset of reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees.'”
Ceballos and his wife Alejandra, who lives in East Haven and works as a medical assistant, expressed many of the same concerns articulated by the lead plaintiffs in the complaint. So did a New Haven woman who told the Independent in another Wednesday afternoon phone interview that her husband, a New Haven resident and Mexican immigrant, has been detained at Bristol for the past seven months. So did a handful of petitions and letters written by Bristol detainees and provided to the Independent by Connecticut Bail Fund organizer Vanesa Suarez, who has been in regular contact with multiple Bristol detainees before and now during the class action lawsuit’s working its way through the courts.”
All nearly four dozen detainees in Unit A share the same open space, and sleep in bunkbeds spaced no more than three feet apart. He said they eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner at the other end of the same building, where there are only seven consistently crowded tables.
“Juan Pablo Rojas Ceballos, Alejandra Rojas, Suarez, and the New Haven woman whose husband is held at Bristol all called on ICE to go beyond providing hand sanitizer and trying to space detainees further apart. They instead said that the federal government should release detainees held on civil immigration detainers at Bristol.
The plaintiffs argue for the immediate release of detainees and their placement in community-based alternatives such as conditional release. Anything else could prove deadly.

Trump signs historic $2 trillion stimulus after Congress passes it Friday (3/27 – CNN)
President Donald Trump signed into law Friday afternoon a historic $2 trillion stimulus package as the American public and the US economy fight the devastating spread of Covid-19. The far-reaching legislation stands as the largest emergency aid package in US history. It represents a massive financial injection into a struggling economy with provisions aimed at helping American workers, small businesses and industries grappling with the economic disruption.”
Key elements of the package include sending checks directly to individuals and families, a major expansion of unemployment benefits, money for hard-hit hospitals and health care providers, financial assistance for small businesses and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.
A centerpiece of the stimulus package is that it will provide direct financial assistance to Americans in the form of checks with the amount received based on income. Individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 — and an additional $500 per each child. The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples without children. In addition, the bill would provide billions of dollars in aid to hard-hit hospitals struggling to deal with the outbreak as well for state and local governments that are cash-strapped due to their response to coronavirus. One point of contention in negotiations centered around a fund for distressed industries, with Democrats worrying that there would not be adequate oversight. In a compromise move, the final deal provides for accountability through an independent Inspector General and congressional oversight panel.

Amazon and Instacart Workers Are Striking for COVID-19 Protections (3/30 – Slate)
Workers for Instacart and Amazon are striking on Monday to demand stronger health protections and better pay. Instacart’s gig workers nationwide will be refusing orders to pick up and deliver groceries, while Amazon warehouse employees in Staten Island are walking off their jobs. Shipping and delivery workers have become a lifeline for millions who remain cloistered at home to slow the spread of COVID-19. These workers must still physically go to work and risk exposure to the virus. Instacart’s shoppers are seeking an additional $5 per order in hazard pay, a default 10 percent tip amount in the app, more access to paid sick leave for people who have preexisting conditions or get sick, and company-provided protective materials—namely soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes and sprays at a minimum. “We will not risk our safety, our health, or our lives for a company that fails to adequately protect us, fails to adequately pay us, and fails to provide us with accessible benefits should we become sick,” reads a Medium post on the strike from the Gig Workers Collective, an organization founded by two Instacart shoppers. The post also alleges that Instacart is not honoring its promise to gives workers up to two weeks of sick pay if they become ill or have to self-quarantine.”
Instacart has seen a dramatic uptick in business. The company announced last week that it was hiring 300,000 more contractors… Like Instacart, Amazon is seeing a surge of orders similar to what it would see on Prime Day or Black Friday, spurring the company to open 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in the U.S. to help keep up with demand and offer $2 per hour raises through April.”
The two Monday strikes follow a number of similar employee protests last week. Perdue Farms employees walked off a chicken production line in Perry, Georgia, due to concerns that the company was not sanitizing the facility well enough and a pay dispute. Pittsburgh sanitation workers held a rally two days later, refusing to pick up trash until they received better safeguards from the city such as access to masks and hazard pay for covering copayments.”

Don’t Worry About Supermarket Shelves. Worry About Farmers. (3/30 – The New Republic)
“The ongoing coronavirus epidemic has shifted American markets, changed typical spending patterns, and closed international borders. While industry experts promise it has not led to a food shortage in the United States—despite the empty supermarket shelves—it is adding a lot of uncertainty to the food and farming industries and could tee up a long-term crisis down the line.
“Like the seasons, the agriculture industry runs on a set schedule. Crops are typically planted in the spring, picked in the summer, and then sold to distributors or local retailers, from which food eventually gets to your plate. But signs are emerging that the coronavirus could cause a substantial disruption to this process, starting with getting crops out of the field. Most fruit and vegetable farms require human pickers to bring crops to harvest. In the U.S., a large portion of those workers are seasonally employed from Mexico. About 90 percent of the annual migrant worker population comes from the country’s neighbor to the south on a very limited seasonal visa known as an H-2A. For years, agricultural communities have argued that more of these visas should be granted by the U.S., and this year farmers worry that coronavirus restrictions could mean even fewer pickers and therefore less crop to bring to market—especially for the fast-approaching cherry season.
U.S. consulates in Mexico are closed indefinitely, which means a suspension of in-person interviews for the H-2A visa program. If that doesn’t change, only seasonal workers who have received worker visas in the past can come to the U.S. this harvest.”
“Then there’s the question of what sales will be like for the commodities that do make it to market. Already some farmers and ranchers who rely on direct sales of their wares to restaurants or schools are suffering from mandatory closures across the country. In California’s Bay Area—the first U.S. region to deploy an official shelter-in-place order—many of the local farms that typically sell to farm-to-table restaurants or to the tech companies that provide free meals to employees are having to find new outlets for their food. Those farmers are struggling with an unusual surplus.”
Dairy farmers are facing a similar market disruption across the U.S. With schools closed for more than half of all children as a precaution, many school lunch programs have also shuttered. Those food programs account for nearly 9 percent of milk sales, according to Matt Gould at the Dairy & Food Market Analyst newsletter—a significant portion of a market to see terminated. And like fruit already planted in a field, farmers can’t simply turn off a cow’s milk supply.”
“International markets are yet another conundrum for the agriculture industry. Whether countries overseas reeling from the pandemic will still accept foreign goods remains a giant open question. That’s especially worrisome for the meat and poultry industry: In 2019, nearly 17 percent of all U.S. meat and poultry production was sold internationally, according to Department of Agriculture data. Mexico and Japan are the top export markets for the pork industry. Japan and South Korea are the top two international buyers of U.S. beef. According to Nepveux, 2020 is expected to be the U.S. meat industry’s biggest production year in history. But a lack of foreign sales could mean a surplus on the U.S. market and therefore falling commodity prices.”

Commercial Fishermen Struggle To Survive In The Face Of Coronavirus (NPR – 3/25)
“Commercial fishermen in the U.S. who have already faced challenges in recent years to make it in an increasingly globalized and regulated industry, are now struggling to find customers during the coronavirus crisis. ‘This is totally unprecedented. This is the biggest crisis to hit the fishing industry ever, no question about that,’ Noah Oppenheim, executive director of The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations told NPR in a phone interview.”
“On Tuesday [March 24], seafood industry leaders, processors and fishermen sent a letter to House and Senate leaders requesting $4 billion in aid for the industry. The closings of restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic has hit commercial fishermen particularly hard. An estimated 50% to 60% of wild seafood caught in the U.S. is exported, Oppenheim says. Those international markets have dried up. Of the seafood that’s not exported, he says around 80% of that is sold to restaurants.”
“On the North Atlantic coast, Sam Rosen, a 30-year-old lobsterman based in Vinalhaven, Maine, says he and others are ‘selling lobster for amounts they shouldn’t be sold for.’ That’s been close to $2.50 a pound, compared to a usual $10 a pound this time of year, Rosen says.”

Connecticut farms are essential services, but are mostly on their own (CT Mirror – 3/24)
“The irony is not lost on Jamie Jones. His grandfather, the fourth generation to run what is now Jones Family Farms in Shelton, was born in October 1918 at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic. ‘He went through Great Depression and World War II,’ Jones said. ‘It’s times like these that those are lessons that are important.’ In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Jones and the rest of Connecticut’s agricultural community are in the fight of their lives to preserve their livelihoods in addition to their personal health.
“The food farming community is also scrambling despite providing the most essential of essential services. Farmers – many of whom grow year round – are facing distribution hurdles now that may only intensify when high season hits in couple of months. The state has some 5,500 farms — average size 70 acres, which is very small by U.S. farm standards. Many mainly serve localized markets that are getting walloped by the virus that has reduced restaurant and education institution sales to near zero.”
The classification of farmers markets as grocery stores came last week through an executive order. But without any specific parameters as other market systems such as in New York City have done. Since then, Lamont has gone on to classify the state’s agriculture industry as an essential service. The department issued broad best practices information – some of it supplied by the University of Connecticut Extension service, but most cobbled together from other states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not Connecticut-specific.//”
The department is also providing a list of of operating farmers markets and farm stands, but it’s been largely left to individual farms and farmers market systems to find their ways through. Systems that protect farmers and customers from contamination by COVID-19 are being invented farm-by-farm and market-by-market.The New Haven farmers market did reopen on Saturday using a pre-order, pre-payment system in which people never had to leave their cars. Timed slots limited the market to about 120 shoppers and about 95 snaked through – a far cry from the usual socializing, food sampling, music and cooking demonstrations.”

Coronavirus Is Hitting Restaurants Hard, Even In States That Haven’t Shut Them Down (FiveThirtyEight – 3/19)
Across the country the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing — and the number of restaurant patrons are plummeting. Take Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine was the first governor in the country to shutter bars and restaurants statewide, forcing patrons to dine at home. But even before DeWine’s March 15 order, restaurants were already feeling the impact of the coronavirus as customers began to avoid crowded areas in their cities.”
Many restaurants are now paralyzed. Governors across the country have issued executive orders restricting or prohibiting seated dining in restaurants — 33 states so far, though all of the states are allowing take-away or delivery orders.
“It’s no secret many workers in the food and beverage and service industries live paycheck to paycheck and, as my colleagues pointed out this week, are among the most vulnerable in an economic crisis. And filing for unemployment can be a tedious process, because waiting periods and benefits vary state by state.”
To soften the economic blow, advocacy and nonprofit groups are calling for relief funds and resources to support laid-off workers and small business owners. But without tax relief or other forms of economic forgiveness from local and federal governments, it’s unclear how many will once again open their doors.”

How local grocers are trying to keep employees, customers safe (CT Post – 3/19)
Health and safety of buyers — and sellers — have become a priority at local stores, supermarket managers said…Meghan Bell, spokeswoman for Stew Leonard’s, which has locations in Norwalk and Danbury, said that local chain as of Wednesday ‘stopped selling any product that has not been wrapped or packaged’ in its salad bar, olive bar and bagel bins.
Area Stop & Shops have begun offering 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. daily store hours for patrons 60 and older ‘as well as customers who may have weakened immune systems.‘”
Earlier this week Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, whose members include area Stop & Shop employees, criticized proposals pending before Congress for not doing enough to help the average worker affected by the virus. One of UFCW’s demands is for at least two weeks of paid sick leave. ‘We need these workers to stay healthy more than ever before, but this flawed legislation will force them to choose between their health and work,’ Perrone wrote federal lawmakers.”

Daily updates: Gov. Lamont to close restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters due to coronavirus outbreak as governors say federal response is failing (Hartford Courant – March 16) (The Hartford Courant is removing the paywall from their main local coronavirus stories each day)
Saying that the federal government has failed to act quickly to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Ned Lamont joined the governors of New York and New Jersey in ordering a mass shutdown of bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters in the three states Monday morning…Restaurants and bars will be allowed to continue food delivery and takeout, while supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential businesses will remain open.
“Connecticut currently has 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, but the actual number is believed to be far higher.”
“The latest developments on the coronavirus outbreak in Connecticut include: Schools will remain closed starting Tuesday morning until at least the end of March. Schools will continue to serve free and reduced price meals for students who are eligible… Lamont’s executive order Sunday provides flexibility for approving municipal budgets… All state employees who are eligible and able to work from home will do so… A Department of Labor spokesperson said the department received 8,000 new claims for unemployment benefits from Friday afternoon to first thing Monday morning… Lamont has requested disaster relief from the federal government for small businesses to make them eligible for loans.”
“In a March 14 letter to Lamont and other key figures, Connecticut Restaurant Association executive director Scott Dolch requested assistance to provide the Connecticut hospitality industry with relief, suggesting measures to assist the more than 8,500 restaurants in the state that employ more than 160,000 people.”

Dear Congress: Send Americans cash. Send it now. (Vox – March 13)
Congress needs to authorize cash payments to every adult and child in the United States, and it needs to do so right now. There are two reasons for this. One is the severe economic threat posed by the coronavirus, which is already putting Americans out of work… Direct cash payments are a better policy than other suggestions for stimulus, like payroll tax cuts or additional quantitative easing from the Federal Reserve. But the Fed is working on interest rates that are already close to zero. And payroll tax cuts only benefit working people, excluding hourly workers in restaurants, gyms, and other businesses that are rapidly shutting down entirely due to coronavirus.”
The second reason is humanitarian. To some extent, we need a slowdown in economic activity for public health reasons. We need the economic activity generated by people buying in-person tickets to sporting events or movie theaters or yoga classes to cease, to prevent disease transmission. But we also need the millions of people employed in in-person service jobs, and the millions of unemployed people (including those unemployed due to layoffs in this crisis), to have the food, shelter, and medical care they need to survive and stay healthy amidst the crisis. They need money, and the easiest way to get it to them is to send checks. This is not a radical idea, and it is not even a liberal idea. Fellows at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, including former Trump FDA director Scott Gottlieb, have called for direct cash subsidies.
This is not the only policy that is needed. We need paid sick leave, and support for states buckling under Medicaid costs. We need universal coverage of coronavirus testing and care. But cash is an issue where economists of all stripes are speaking with one voice. We need cash. We need it now. Congress should appropriate it immediately.”

Labor shortages, SNAP cuts, trade deals: How could coronavirus affect our food supply chain? (FERN’s Ag Insider – March 11)
Although U.S. shoppers concerned about the coronavirus pandemic have largely emptied stores of paper products and household cleaning supplies, so far most other grocery aisles remain stocked. Still, as the virus spreads across the U.S., it could expose other weaknesses in our food supply chain, experts say. Existing concerns, including labor shortages, cuts to public food assistance, and the farm economy’s reliance on exports, could be compounded by increased consumer demand and the specter of mass exposure to the virus.”
“The outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has already disrupted some routine food-related activities. The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it is suspending most inspections of foreign food manufacturers in keeping with State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel advisories. Experts say the decision could increase food safety risks. In addition, the economic uncertainty in China, where COVID-19 originated and where thousands have contracted the virus, has cast doubt on whether the country will be able to follow through on the so-called ‘phase one’ trade agreement it signed with the Trump administration in January. Farm commodities were a major casualty in the Sino-U.S. trade war, which cost U.S. farmers billions in exports.”
“So far, more than 1,000 people have contracted the virus in the U.S., and experts expect that total to continue to grow dramatically. As the numbers climb, there will be more closed schools and workplaces, fewer patrons at businesses and restaurants, and canceled industry events, all of which would significantly affect economically and physically vulnerable populations, including food chain workers, who may have little or no paid sick time or health insurance.
As for the impact of the pandemic on food availability, there may not yet be cause for alarm. Retailers can be agile when it comes to ensuring that shoppers can find most products on store shelves, said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at FMI, a food industry group that represents retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers.”

Food-Bank Response to Coronavirus Runs the Gamut (Food Bank News – March 12)
“Michael Guerra of San Antonio Food Bank was sitting in a meeting about the food bank’s coronavirus contingency plan when he thought back to a chance encounter he’d had that morning: a food-insecure client of the food bank was lamenting the inability to acquire reserve food, when it was already so difficult to get food to meet immediate needs. As the food bank executives met to prepare their contingency plan, Guerra, who has experience in disaster planning with Red Cross and Feeding America, asked who would be making contingency plans for the lower-income households they serve. ‘Logically, the food bank helps you weather the storm,’ said Guerra, who is San Antonio Food Bank’s Chief Resource Officer. He also realized, ‘We’ve got to get ahead of this because if we wait, it’s too late.’ The result is a month-long effort, begun March 5, to prepare 300,000 ‘corona preparedness kits’ containing a 14-day supply of non-perishable food, as well as hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies, diapers and pet food, to be distributed through local and mobile pantries, and especially senior centers, where the need for such kits could be higher.”
The response is one of many being undertaken by food banks and pantries across the country as they react to the many unknowns of the coronavirus. Deep cleanings, measures to minimize social contact and calls for extra donations and volunteer help are among the more common responses food banks are taking, beyond basic monitoring of the situation. Feeding America this week established a $2.65 million fund to support food- and fund-raising efforts, including building an inventory of emergency food boxes to be distributed throughout the network.
Snohomish Community Food Bank, located in the county next to the one in Washington state where the first U.S. coronavirus case was reported, has also modified its distribution to encourage social distancing. Rather than shop the pantry as they normally do, clients are placing orders via a clipboarded order form. Once the order is filled by volunteers, clients can pick it up or have it delivered to their cars… As much as possible, food banks and pantries are striving to maintain some form of client choice.

CT school districts to offer meals during coronavirus shutdown (New Haven Register – March 15)
Education and municipal officials across the state are scrambling to provide food to children who typically get one or more meals in school. The Connecticut Mirror calculated that, on Friday, schools had been closed for about 295,000 Connecticut students, including some of the state’s largest, urban districts.”
“On Thursday, Bridgeport Public Schools district was able to put into place emergency meal service for Friday and beyond at 20 locations, with breakfast being served from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and lunch being served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Interim Superintendent of Schools Testani said there will be emergency food service sites available during school closings through March 20. Sites can be seen here: https://www.bridgeportedu.net/”
New Haven was initially denied a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prepare meals in a ‘grab and go’ fashion. However, partnerships with other urban school districts and assistance from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, helped to overturn the decision so that the district could begin offering meals from an estimated 39 pick-up sites starting Monday…Food distribution sites will be open for breakfast and lunch pick up Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to noon.” [A map of the New Haven meal sites can be found here]
Latha Swamy, New Haven’s director of food policy, said the city also is having discussions with ‘large footprint community providers’ to develop a community-wide response to school meals in the absence of school.”
“As districts across the state were making preparations, Waterbury Public Schools was planning daily with its city departments… [the] district’s initial response was to call for an extension of the summer meals program, so the district could operate under those rules.”
“Neil Cavallaro, superintendent of the West Haven schools, said the district ordinarily serves 4,500 lunches per day during regular school days. The plan West Haven devised is similar to New Haven’s grab-and-go decision.

During COVID-19 Emergency, Connecticut Utilities Will Stop Nonpayment Shut-offs (Connecticut Public Radio – March 13)
State regulators have announced that utilities will no longer be able to shut off the water, electricity or natural gas of residential customers if they don’t pay their bills. The order came during a week when Gov. Ned Lamont declared a public health emergency in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“‘We’re asking people to stay home, work at home, practice social distancing, kids are being kept at home and schools are closed,’ [Connecticut Attorney General William] Tong said, ‘… so it doesn’t make any sense to cut off people’s electricity and natural gas and water when they need it most.’”
“The ruling means shut-off orders for nonpayment will be temporarily suspended, but utility customers should continue to pay their bills, as they ultimately will be responsible for any charges accrued during the moratorium.”
“[Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority / PURA Chair Marissa] Gillett said the order stands to keep utilities on for at least 100,000 customers at risk of service termination.

Money can buy some protection from coronavirus. But the poor can’t afford it, leaving them more vulnerable (The Philadelphia Inquirer – March 14)
Angel Morales is trying to keep his fears in check. For the head of a low-income household, it’s almost impossible. ‘I try not to think about the coronavirus,’ said Morales, 36, a married father of five and a sheet-metal worker in Kensington [Pennsylvania]. ‘But everybody I know is worried.’ He and his wife, Emily Ramirez, 35, a day-care worker, can’t avoid infection by working from home. And if the schools close, he said, one of them may have to miss work to watch the kids.”
“Even at a time when middle- and upper-class citizens have been exposed to the disease by traveling, Kefalas said, most better-off Americans ‘can cancel the trip, buy Purell, and have Peapod [a grocery delivery service] bring the food.’ Money can buy some protection from disease. Those in poverty can’t afford it. They must rely on public transportation, which can hasten exposure or spread infection, health and poverty experts say. They often have jobs that don’t provide sick days, compelling them to work even if they contract the virus, thus putting themselves and others at risk. If they lose their jobs for virus-related reasons, they also forgo government benefits that are contingent on work.”
Those in poverty sometimes have no choice but to gather in crowded public-assistance offices to apply for benefits such as food stamps (now SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Without doctors, many go to emergency rooms, increasing potential exposure. They often live doubled and tripled up in unstable households where people frequently move in and out…Those of meager means must show up at food pantries where clients frequently await their small allotments in packed areas in tiny church basements… Further, if schools close and the source of free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch is cut off, the costs and stress to parents and children increase. If shuttered schools conduct online classes, many low-income students will be left out because they have no computers.”
“To meet the coronavirus’s steady advance, Share Food Program, a Hunting Park nonprofit that supplies food to pantries and lunch programs in the [Philadelphia area], has tripled the amount of food it normally provides to those in need. ‘We’ve been working seven days a week around the clock to pump 35 million pounds of food into 500 pantries,’ said George Matysik, Share’s executive director. Share also provides school lunches for 305,000 students in the region, and Matysik is working on plans to have food available in designated spots should schools close and children miss out on lunch.”
Many low-income people work as home health aides, which puts them in close proximity to elderly clients who might have the virus. Lolita Owens, who works as an aide, takes two buses to get from her North Philadelphia home to Southwest Philadelphia, where she cares for a sickly 65-year-old who has not been diagnosed with coronavirus… She makes $12.45 an hour working 60 to 70 hours in a six-day week, and there’s no paid sick time.

Federal judge blocks Trump rule that could have cut food stamps for nearly 700,000 people amid coronavirus (CNN – March 14)
A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Trump administration federal rule from going into effect next month that could have seen nearly 700,000 people lose access to food stamps, noting in part a need for flexibility as state and federal officials work to address nutritional needs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“‘Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential,’ Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court in Washington, DC, wrote as part of her opinion issued Friday.”
The final USDA rule was expected to take effect on April 1. The requirement could result in 688,000 non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents losing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, according to the USDA’s estimates… A USDA spokesperson said in a statement to CNN that the department ‘disagrees with the court’s reasoning’ and that the government ‘will appeal its decision.’
“On Friday, the House passed a coronavirus relief bill, negotiated between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration, that includes over $1 billion to programs that provide food to low-income mothers, pregnant women, senior citizens, and local food banks.”

‘There Is Plenty of Food in the Country’ (The New York Times – March 15)
The aisles and aisles of empty store shelves give the appearance that the United States, improbably and alarmingly, is running out of food. But the nation’s biggest retailers, dairy farmers and meat producers say that isn’t so. The food supply chain, they say, remains intact and has been ramping up to meet the unprecedented stockpiling brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, shoppers can most likely expect to see empty shelves intermittently, as the nation’s network of food producers, distributors and retailers are stretched as never before… Food suppliers and retailers are now not only struggling to satiate crushing demand for canned soup and oat milk, they are battling a perception that the scary scenes at the grocery store reflect a fundamental breakdown. ‘There is food being produced. There is food in warehouses,’ said Julie Anna Potts, chief executive of the North American Meat Institute, a trade group for beef, pork and turkey packers and producers. ‘There is plenty of food in the country.’ ‘Our stores are getting stocked every day,’ Ron Vachris, chief operating officer of Costco, said in an interview on Saturday.”
The panicky buying is testing the food system’s capacity in the near term. Over the past few weeks, sales of rice have increased more than 50 percent, according to data from the research firm Nielsen. Canned meat is up more than 40 percent. And sales of other essentials like beans, pasta, peanut butter and bottled water have also risen substantially, with a sharp spike this month.”
If the illnesses surge, of course, there could be a slowdown in production and distribution, food industry official say. But the extent of any problems could vary across the food chain. Slaughterhouse workers tend to work side by side, possibly making them at a higher risk of spreading the virus. But many dairy farmers operate in sparsely populated rural areas, improving their chances of staying healthy. Still, industries are starting to make contingency plans in case large numbers of workers producing and delivering food are incapacitated by the virus or roads are shut down as part of the effort to control the pandemic.

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