Shaheen, Senate Democrats Urge Trump Administration to Protect Food Supply, Essential Workers During COVID-19 Crisis

April 20, 2020

As processing plants shutter and food industry essential workers fall ill, 36 Senators urge action to protect the food supply

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter with a group of 36 Senators urging Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump administration to take action to help ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply and protect essential workers in the food supply chain.

“It is vital that we do everything we can to protect food supply workers,” wrote the Senators. “Breakdowns in the food supply chain could have significant economic impacts for both consumers and agricultural producers. It is also imperative that precautions are taken to ensure the stability and safety of our food supply.”

There have been numerous reports of essential workers in meatpacking plants, processing facilities, farms, grocery stores, and markets falling ill from COVID-19. Some workers have reportedly felt pressured to go to work even when feeling sick. There are also serious concerns about the health of farmworkers who often work, live, and travel in close proximity, making social distancing very difficult.

“The severe shortages of adequate COVID-19 testing capability and personal protective equipment are exacerbating these problems,” wrote the Senators. “Lack of access to tests and personal protective equipment leaves essential food supply workers at even higher risk and makes the virus more likely to spread, harming more workers and further damaging our food supply chain.”

The Senators urged the White House and federal agencies to coordinate with state and local governments and the private sector to take aggressive action to protect essential workers and the food supply from further damage. The Senators also asked a series of questions about the actions being taken and coordination with the food industry.

The letter, led by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), also included Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jackie Rosen (D-NV).

A PDF of the letter is available here.

Last week, Shaheen sent a letter with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and 32 other Senators to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer calling for any future response legislation to include a requirement that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to guarantee protections for all essential workers. An ETS from OSHA would require all employers nationwide to implement a comprehensive plan to ensure proper training and protections for those workers who must continue going to work during the pandemic, including with personal protective equipment and access to hand sanitizer or adequate facilities to wash their hands.