Government Affairs in a Pandemic

Jul 20, 2020

By Christy Seyfert, ASA Executive Director of Government Affairs • From Summer 2020 American Soybean

Awful, costly, unprecedented, dynamic. You can think of a multitude of words to describe the impact of COVID-19 on our nation and our communities.

In our nation’s capital, Friday the 13th of March became our last day in the office upon learning about a positive COVID test in the neighborhood. Our Government Affairs team immediately started brainstorming about lobbying efforts to ensure that ASA remains top of mind for policymakers in a new, low-contact environment.

Within days, ASA led a letter signed by more than 40 agricultural organizations to President Trump, reminding that a steady supply of food, fiber, feed, and fuel starts on the farm. As the government began taking steps to restrict movement of people and supplies, we wanted to make clear that restrictions could be disruptive to spring planting season. Meaningful discussions with the White House and USDA senior staff followed. ASA’s messages were mirrored in letters to governors days later.

Our advocacy efforts were soon enhanced by the observations that you have shared proactively, insights provided on weekly calls with the ASA COVID-19 Task Force, and responses from the ASA COVID-19 survey. This survey provided pages of ideas for advocacy efforts, spanning the full spectrum from “no intervention” to “high intervention.” We will focus on three categories of responses in between.

The first:  Stay focused on ASA’s top priorities this year. Our team has done just that. Highlights include discussing China’s trade commitments with the U.S. Trade Representative, engaging on biotech and crop protection issues with Mexico, filing comments regarding trade opportunities with Kenya, encouraging protection of the Renewable Fuel Standard, as well as registration renewals of crop protection products, working to secure greater federal investment for inland waterways infrastructure, and hiring new D.C. lobbyists to build out ASA’s in-house, dedicated team.

The second:  Address regulatory issues. There have been many. These include the designation of agriculture and biodiesel as “essential” for workforce purposes, harmonization of truck weights, and challenges of agriculture accessing the Small Business Administration, Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance programs. ASA has joined with other agricultural organizations to show a united front in addressing many regulatory needs.

The third:  Seek market-related relief. ASA joined efforts to support USDA resources in the CARES Act and proposed market-related relief to USDA as it began developing its assistance package. As agriculture’s needs continue to deepen, ASA has supported efforts to provide resources to USDA in future legislation. We have communicated to policymakers our support for additional assistance for soybean growers and livestock producers, as well as joint requests to fund needs such as food aid and broadband.

In addition to listening and responding to your concerns, we have also provided opportunities for you to raise these directly with USDA. In April, we were pleased to provide a full board and state staff call with Secretary Perdue’s senior staff and to provide another in May with USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey and FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce.

In these very dynamic and unprecedented times, our team remains committed to you and ASA’s mission, vision and values.