WASHINGTON, D.C – In response to rising food insecurity and supply chain disruptions witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic and stemming from our hyper-consolidated food system, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today introduced the Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets Act, or the Local FARM Act, legislation that expands food assistance to vulnerable Americans and increases support for the local and regional food systems that have proven most resilient during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our nation’s food supply,” Booker said. “Food banks are grappling with greater demand while subsequently facing steep reductions in donations. Farmers have been forced to dump products due to supply-chain disruptions and a resulting lack of access to traditional markets. And corporate agribusiness is proving incapable of maintaining operations in a way that is safe for both workers and our food supply.

“In response, this legislation strengthens local and regional food systems in order to avoid the harmful supply-chain disruptions stemming from a consolidated market and provides greater choice to those purchasing food to feed their families during this difficult time,” Booker added. “Billions of dollars in farm aid have been made available in response to the current health crisis, but current programs fail to not only fairly compensate farmers from across the economic spectrum, they fail to invest in resilient food systems that could protect the nation’s food supply both now and in a future pandemic. It’s time for that to change.”

The Local FARM Act includes five primary components:

Creates Specialty Crop Block Grants. Provides grants to states to award to food assistance organizations and other entities focused primarily on marketing locally grown food to procure and distribute specialty crops to those in need. Fifty percent of the specialty crops must be purchased from small, beginning, and historically underserved producers.

Expands Online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Provides grants to States to develop tools and provide technical assistance to (1) increase the number of retailers able to accept and redeem online SNAP benefits and (2) expand the capacity of retailers able to accept and redeem online SNAP benefits. At least 25 percent of funds must be used to assist local and regional retailers such as farmers markets, food hubs, and agricultural cooperatives.

Reduces Matching Requirements. Temporarily reduces the match requirement for certain nutrition programs and grant programs under the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), an existing federal program that supports local food systems.

Expands LAMP Funding. Provides an additional $500 million for LAMP, with $100 million dedicated to organizations that serve historically underserved producers. Provides $50 million for grants to assist producers in finding ways to get their products to consumers. Allows for grant funds to be used for market rebuilding projects.

Expands Farm Microloans. Provides an additional $350 million for 3 years for the Farm Microloan program and doubles the loan cap from $50,000 to $100,000. Temporarily waives certain eligibility requirements, extends repayment terms at a 1% or less interest rate, and gives priority to beginning, socially disadvantaged, and niche or nontraditional farmers and ranchers.

"The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has left many small, beginning, and historically underserved producers, including Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color; in a precarious financial situation - especially farmers who have traditionally relied on selling into local and regional markets such schools, institutions, restaurants and farmers markets,” said Wes King, Senior Policy Specialist of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Some producers have been able to maintain sales through innovation and entrepreneurship, but only through costly unplanned investments. Others have not been so fortunate and are asking themselves if this will be the year they give up farming. The Local FARM act recognizes that as the crisis continues producers need additional investments - now - to bolster their innovations with increased capital, technical assistance, and market opportunities. As the COVID-19 crisis stretches into peak growing season it is time for Congress to act and prioritize aid for small, beginning, and historically underserved producers."

"Farmers, businesses, and organizations that make up our local food systems across the country have been among the most dependable as global supply chains failed,” said Jake Davis, Farmer and Family Farm Advocate. “Unfortunately, most of them have been completely left out of USDA's COVID-19 relief. These folks were already doing a lot with few resources but are being stretched to the breaking point as they adapt to a new reality. The Local FARM Act is critical to ensuring that farmer's markets, food hubs, local food processors, and direct to market farmers can weather this disaster."

“Institutional racism has been part of American ethos for 400 years. At a time when protests are finally shedding light on the continuing injustice faced by people of color, the Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets Act of 2020 aims to assist Black farmers and other historically under-served producers,” said Jim Goodman, Board President of the National Family Farm Coalition. “Further, COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of our consolidated food system, as farm income has declined dramatically due to low prices and lost markets, even while store shelves go empty. This bill will strengthen local food systems by supporting direct connections between farmers and consumers, shortening the food chain and reducing food insecurity.”

The legislation is endorsed by the American Grassfed Association, the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, Farm Aid, Family Farm Action, the Farmers Market Coalition, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Food Policy Action, Friends of the Earth, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the National Co+op Grocers, the National Family Farm Coalition, the National Organic Coalition, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, the Organic Consumers Association, the Organic Farmers Association, the Pennsylvania Farmers Union, People's Action, Regeneration International, RAFI-USA, and the Rural Coalition.

The full text of the bill is available here.