Your Farm Law Update for June 16th!

COIVD Relief News- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Focus
There’s so much cash left… When the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was introduced in early April, it took less than two weeks for the PPP coffers to run dry. On April 27th, Congress replenished them with $310 billion, and today, $130 billion remains in the PPP pot, which can be accessed until June 30th. So does this mean all the businesses who needed the money have taken it? No, oodles of small businesses are still hurting, if not hemorrhaging, from the COVID-induced economic slowdown. Businesses are not dipping into the PPP piggybank because there are many obstacles between them and the piggybank. Read this CNBC article to learn more about why, and if you’re a farm business that hasn’t yet taken advantage of this, go get some PPP!

– Minority-owned businesses lose out. As this ABC News article reports, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates that 90% of businesses owned by people of color will not receive PPP funding. The reasons why this is happening are ingrained in deeper issues. Minority-owned businesses tend to be smaller, lack access to accountants and lawyers to help them through the application process, have no existing relationship with a lender, and sometimes there’s a language barrier. Some of these issues were addressed in the second round of PPP funding, and now there’s money specifically allocated for CDFIs (community development financial institutions) which focus on lending to low-income, disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Also, the PPP application is now available in 17 different languages. This is a good start, but the real work is going to be in helping these businesses actually get a hold of the $130 billion that still remains, and quickly.

– Forgiveness at last… On June 5th, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPPFA) – yay, another acronym to have to remember – became law. This is very welcome news to the small business community, which has been flummoxed by the strict and confusing PPP forgiveness application. The PPPFA significantly relaxes forgiveness rules. Now, PPP recipients can use the funds through the end of the year, and the amount of funds required to be used for payroll is reduced from 75% to 60%. For details, read this National Law Review article and attend Farm Commons’ webinar on June 18th explaining the process (see below for registration info.)

– OSHA complaints go unheard.  As a Counter article reports, as of June 4th, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) had received 4,775 complaints relating to COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. (That’s just the federal OSHA – there have been another 11,585 complaints to the state OSHA agencies.) In response, OSHA issued but a single citation. The biggest reason behind this is that the OSHA laws regarding COVID-19 are merely guidance, meaning they have no teeth – they do not create mandatory laws and corresponding penalties and fines for failure to follow said laws. However, given that, as the Counter article mentions, “Covid-19 has caused more deaths among workers in a shorter time than any other health emergency OSHA has faced in its fifty-year existence,” following these guidelines is a really good idea. Watch Farm Commons’ webinar on the new OSHA guidelines for agricultural operations here.

Non-COVID news

– Dicamba is dead. Maybe. On June 4th, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that farmers can no longer spray dicamba on genetically modified soybeans and cotton. Dicamba is a volatile herbicide, in more ways than one. It evaporates quickly, meaning that it does not easily stay on its intended target field, and it also has pitted neighbor against neighbor, as entire crops of surrounding farms have been damaged or destroyed. Since it was unleased in 2016, it has spawned 4,200 complaints from farmers, damage to 4.7 million acres of soybeans, and a rash of related lawsuits. As the court said, “EPA entirely failed to acknowledge the risk that (over-the-top) dicamba use would tear the social fabric of farming communities.” However, its status in the farm world is still unclear, as on June 8th, the EPA stated that farmers can continue to use already purchased dicamba until July 31, but on June 11, the plaintiffs filed an emergency motion saying EPA can’t do that.  Learn more about the lawsuit and dicamba issue here.

– Reckoning with Racial Justice in Farm Country. In the wake of George Flloyd’s death, Davon Goodwin, the only Black farmer in Scotland County, North Carolina, tells Civil Eats he hopes to talk with farmers in his community about this issue, given that discrimination by police and hate crimes are “just as present in rural areas, though less visible than they are in cities.” National Farmers Union’s President, Rob Larew also tells Civil Eats, “This isn’t a Minneapolis story alone . . . we know these problems persist throughout rural America as well.” National Young Farmers Coalition adds, “Our food system is rooted in stolen land and stolen labor.” After centuries of slavery, intimidation and discrimination, is it any wonder that non-white people own only four percent of American farmland? It can feel so overwhelming and hopeless to try to change any of this. Understanding that, Young Farmers has developed a Racial equity toolkit aimed at providing farmers with tools to start on a path toward racial equality in the food system.