Washington, D.C.— Today, the House Small Business Committee under Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), gathered food producers and small business owners to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on America’s food systems and the small businesses that depend on them.
“Many of the issues facing our food system and society existed pre-pandemic. Now, because of the inability to control the spread of the virus, they are made worse,” said Chairwoman Velázquez. “Many small businesses across the food system are still in the difficult position of figuring out how to pay rent and survive, while many have shut down forever. I look forward to working with my colleague on this Committee to tackle the many challenges facing small businesses operating in our food system.”
COVID-19 has put enormous stress on the food system and exposed numerous vulnerabilities. Since the onset of the crisis, millions of food-insecure Americans have turned to food banks to help their families. At the same time, farmers have had to destroy crops and goods due to lost market opportunities, supply chain bottlenecks, and workforce challenges. These food system disruptions have harmed vulnerable populations and the small businesses and their employees that serve them.
During the hearing, witnesses testified on the impact of food system issues on small businesses across the supply chain and various industries. Lawmakers examined existing relief efforts by the Small Business Administration and Department of Agriculture and potential actions that could support small businesses amidst continued uncertainty in the food system.
“When restaurants were forced to close in March, our foodservice customers had no sales and have not been able to pay Slade Gorton and companies like ours,” said Kimberly Gorton, President and CEO Slade Gorton & Co., Inc. in Boston, MA. “Now that some restaurants are trying to re-open, they will again need to rely on us to provide credit so they can purchase the products they need. We are then faced with choosing to extend further credit, at higher risk of not being paid, or, abandoning what are in many cases decades-long customer relationships.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the grocery supply chain literally a kitchen table issue for the American people,” said Jimmy Wright, President of Wright’s Market in Opelika, AL. “The crisis has tested the resilience of the food and consumer product supply chain like never before. Even after the first wave of panic buying, the grocery supply chain continues to struggle to keep up with consumer demand, a trend disproportionately impacting independent grocers and their customers.”
“Almost overnight, some farmers completely lost markets they depended on,” said Rob Larew, President of the National Farmers Union. “Disruptions were caused by a combination of massive shifts in consumer demand; the closure of restaurants, bars, schools, and other institutions; and outbreaks at critical points in the supply chain, especially in livestock slaughter and processing facilities. Prior to the pandemic, farmers were already experiencing a steady decline in commodity prices. The pandemic pushed prices lower, while also increasing the price of food for consumers.”
“I am proud of the PPP and EIDL programs and the fact that they’ve saved so many small businesses,” said Chairwoman Velázquez. “However, we must continue to work to find other ways to assist our country’s small food businesses. From restaurants and grocery stores to farms and processors, these businesses ensure the rest of us can have access to food needed to sustain our communities.