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In the Absence of Leadership from the White House, Congress Must Lead on Testing

Washington, May 11, 2020

In a statement Monday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Subcommittee Chairs Filemon Vela of Texas and Jim Costa of California, and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, called for the investment of $250 billion in testing for coronavirus in the next pandemic legislative aid package, including the prioritization of tests for frontline food and agricultural workers:

Our nation’s heroic response to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic is well-documented. We see stories daily of the brave doctors and nurses, police officers and teachers, delivery drivers and sanitation workers, showing up to make sure all Americans are safe and have the essentials they need as we battle this virus. Through them, we are gifted a perspective that helps us see the good in people and our communities.

This pandemic has also brought into focus the everyday heroism of the men and women who make up American food and agriculture.

The four of us know these men and women well. We had the great opportunity to serve with one another on the House Agriculture Committee in the last Congress. Together we represent districts that cover the depth and breadth of our country’s agriculture, from the hogs and dairies and row-crop farms of western Minnesota and the citrus and cattle in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley; to the almonds and cheese and galaxy of fruits and vegetables of central California and the poultry and melons and sweet corn in Delaware.

These farms and the food supply chains that begin at their gates are struggling right now. Frankly, they were in pain before the pandemic, faced with volatile markets, depressed demand, once-in-a-generation bankruptcies, regulatory challenges, and economic distress that cost rural towns more and more businesses like restaurants and grocery stores.

The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation. Farmers now have to deal with uncertain supply chains amid the a health crisis that threatens both their health and their financial well-being, and displaces thousands of hard-working people who pick, process and produce food.

And while there are legitimate concerns on the part of consumers about shortages in our grocery stores, we have to remember that the men and women who make our food chain go  are also concerned—for their safety. Whether they’re picking fruit, working a line in a meatpacking plant, driving a refrigerated truck, or manning a cash register in a local grocery, they dwell on the unknowns of this pandemic. They wonder how they will protect themselves; how will they recover and keep their families healthy if they get sick; and what will happen if they lose their jobs.

As we try to find solutions to each of those questions, we do know that if we test more broadly and frequently, we can get a better picture of how the virus is impacting our communities.

That’s why we’ve come together to call on House Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy, as well as Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer in the Senate, to include $250 billion in the next coronavirus relief package for broad national testing and comprehensive contact tracing of all frontline healthcare professionals, first responders, and food and agricultural workers, as well as the seniors and communities of color that are so disproportionately impacted by this disease.

Without more testing, workers cannot feel confident their workplaces are safe,  no matter what steps employers take to clean and sanitize. Without testing, employers cannot know the degree to which the virus is impacting their workers. Without testing, communities don’t have the broad ability to isolate and quickly treat the sick to limit further spread of the virus. Without testing, we as a nation simply don’t have any idea of the scale of our problem.

Without testing in every community, we will face painful and expensive setbacks as we work to reopen our economy. Experts suggest we need 30 million tests a week; we’re currently well under 2 million, and there is no coordinated plan from the White House to close that gap. In the absence of national leadership from the administration, Americans are looking to Congress to lead.

Because of that, we have to act. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to ensure our communities can broadly trace the impacts of this deadly virus.

Filemon Vela, Jr. represents the 34th Congressional District of Texas, and serves as Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management.

Collin C. Peterson represents the 7th Congressional District of Minnesota and serves as Chair of the House Agriculture Committee.

Lisa Blunt Rochester represents the state of Delaware’s at-large congressional district in the House, where she serves on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. She is a former member of the House Agriculture Committee and the former Deputy Secretary for the Delaware Department of Health.

Jim Costa represents the 16th Congressional District of California, and serves as Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.

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