While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we have known it for most Americans, the U.S. dairy industry — from our farmers to our truckers to our processors and our grocers — has diligently persisted in providing Americans with the safe, nutritious, high-quality dairy products they rely on. Dairy is, of course, an essential part of American economies, cultures and diets.

That is why the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) was pleased to see the White House and federal agencies confirm our industry as a ‘Critical Infrastructure Industry' so early in the COVID-19 outbreak. This federal government policy helped to inform state and local actions. States like New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota have included workers in the food and agricultural sectors — as well as their suppliers — in their definitions of “essential.”

IDFA is focused on following through with Congress and federal officials in Washington to ensure dairy farmers can continue producing, truckers can continue hauling, processors can continue working and retailers can continue to provide American consumers with a stable food supply amidst the pandemic.

While this outbreak and our response shift by the day, we’re working on the following top five issues in Washington.

Legislative support

Congress continues to work on a third coronavirus funding package aimed at providing economic relief for workers, industries and support services, among others. IDFA expects the Senate to vote on the package this afternoon (March 25) or tomorrow morning, and the House to vote on the measure in short order.

The bill provides roughly $49 billion for USDA agencies and programs, including $25 billion to support nutrition and meals programs; $9.5 billion for ongoing support of agricultural producers, including dairy farmers; and a $14 billion replenishment of USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds, which is expected to support a new round of Market Facilitation Payments from USDA. It also includes several provisions that will help the dairy industry weather the volatility resulting from this pandemic, including: important Small Business Administration loans for businesses with under 500 employees that contain forgiveness provisions for certain expenses, tax provisions for businesses of any size and special permits for overweight vehicles.

Moreover, IDFA has learned about a fourth and potentially a fifth funding package, and we are beginning to shape our priorities as those bills are discussed. IDFA has been staying in close contact with Congressional leaders as these packages come together to ensure dairy is prioritized.


Workforce safety

IDFA continues to seek the most current, clearest guidance from the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on procedures to protect workers and facilities when an employee tests positive for, or is exposed to someone with, COVID-19. After some back and forth, the protocol now posted to IDFA’s website is, we believe, the most comprehensive FDA-approved protocol available. Get the most current guidance on the IDFA website.


Bolstered nutrition programs

IDFA worked with USDA to ensure states could more easily waive certain requirements under the WIC program, including stringent requirements for fluid milk purchases under the program. The waiver, which needs to be implemented on a state-by-state basis, will allow flexibility for WIC participants to substitute 2% milk, going beyond the statutory requirement of nonfat or 1% for children over the age of 2 years and women. The waiver could also include state requests for substitutions of different size packages of milk, yogurt and cheeses.

IDFA is working with USDA, the White House, Feeding America and Congress to ensure the necessary systems and resources are in place to continue moving fluid milk to schools for congregant feeding and meals; to expand options for milk and dairy in other federal feeding programs, as well as benefits programs such as SNAP and TEFAP; and to ensure USDA and IDFA members are working closely with food banks and distribution centers to get adequate supplies of dairy foods to people in need.


Regulatory relief

IDFA has requested FDA allow foodservice-labeled foods to be sold at retail. This request is pending. IDFA has also requested that FDA postpone implementation of the new nutrition facts label by six additional months. Currently, FDA is requiring the label to appear on all packaging by July 1, 2020.

IDFA is working with our key Capitol Hill and industry allies to request a temporary federal waiver to laws limiting the weight of trucks using the interstate highway system. This would allow vital goods, including dairy products, to get where they are needed faster and more efficiently, providing prompter relief and contributing to the economic recovery.


Collaboration and communication

Finally, IDFA will continue to coordinate with the U.S. dairy industry across state and regional groups as well as international organizations to share best practices and disseminate information. Please visit www.idfa.org/news/coronavirus to find the most up-to-date information and guidance for our industry.

IDFA will continue to work to ensure the dairy industry can operate to its maximum capacity throughout the pandemic, as the men and women of the dairy workforce unfailingly deliver for all Americans. To honor these men and women, please consider joining IDFA’s #Essential campaign on social media.