Democrats press USDA to create rural coronavirus task force

Democrats press USDA to create rural coronavirus task force
© Greg Nash

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLiberal group asks Klobuchar to remove herself from VP consideration because of prosecutorial record Klobuchar on defense as Floyd death puts spotlight on record Officer involved in George Floyd death charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter MORE (D-Minn.) and Reps. Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoThe Hill's Campaign Report: Buzz builds around Warren for VP Gun control group rolls out House endorsements Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary MORE (D-N.Y.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) are pressing Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueJustice Department investigating meat price increases: report 11,000 coronavirus cases tied to three meat processors: report The looming USDA deadline to guarantee access to school meals MORE to form a task force to identify rural challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to Perdue on Friday and first reported by The Hill, the Democrats say Perdue should form the task force to ensure that rural communities are not forgotten as the federal government provides help to states hit by the health crisis. 

“Rural America cannot carry the burden of addressing this public health emergency and economic crisis alone, and we urge you to establish a ‘Rural COVID-19 Task Force’ that will ensure their priorities are met in an expedited manner,” the letter states. It is signed by 26 Democratic members of Congress. 

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The Democrats say the task force they envision would develop strategies and policy recommendations, provide a guide of available programs and resources from the federal government for rural communities, consult with Congress and the USDA and provide oversight on the distribution of funding. 

They noted that in rural America, there are fewer hospital beds and resources and that 1 in 5 rural Americans are people of color. Minorities have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. 

“People living in rural America are more likely to be uninsured, advanced in age, and have preexisting medical conditions,” the members wrote. “Rural parents and students struggle to work or attend school remotely without reliable internet access. Agricultural producers and processors have less cash flow due to price declines, lack of market opportunities and an already stretched workforce being squeezed by positive COVID-19 tests.”

The letter comes as agriculture groups are calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step in and purchase products to keep them from going to waste and to provide payments to producers.

Farmers are finding it harder to sell their products and recent closures of processing plants due to outbreaks of the coronavirus have put a spotlight on the food supply chain.