State & Federal Policy Updates

May/June 2020

Hard to imagine that between the last policy update and this one something would come along of such import that it would knock the COVID-19 pandemic off the headlines. But something did. And it should. Black Lives Matter. This isn’t the first, second, or third time police brutality against black people has caused widespread protests demanding change. This time, however, the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, following so many previous injustices, has ignited a movement for change around the county. Monuments to confederate soldiers are being toppled, the confederate flag has been banned from NASCAR, and schools are ending contracts with police departments removing officers from the schools. After mostly ignoring calls for actions just like these, organizations, politicians, and broader society seem to be waking up to the reality of our deeply embedded structural racism. These are good beginning steps. But that is all they are – beginning steps. We all need to keep pushing forward, recognize and acknowledge our systemically racist structures and actions, and change them.

The food system is no different than other societal structures. Our food system was developed on land stolen from indigenous people, built on the backs of slave labor, and to this day is inefficient at moving fresh, healthy food to people who have the least access; frequently black, indigenous, people of color, and those with lower socio-economic status. This, too, must change. And we will work every day on policy issues to help create that change.

State Policy

Colorado Legislature – sine die (Latin: without another day)

After a 10 week pause, the Colorado Legislature went back to work on May 26 and then finished the 2020 legislative session on June 15, using 21 of the 52 days they had remaining after their COVID19 timeout. While it was not quite business as usual – the majority of lawmakers and staff were masked, pieces of plexiglass  adorned the spaces between the desks, and several legislators were relocated to the gallery to ensure appropriate social distance – many  elements remained the same. They kicked off their first day back with a partisan fight over whether to allow remote voting on floor votes. Ultimately, remote voting was approved for those lawmakers who, for health reasons, could not be present at the Capitol (although most lawmakers were present). During that debate, it almost seemed like nothing had changed.

Much, however, had changed. They had to find funding to cover a $3.3 billion budget deficit for the rest of this fiscal year and all of the next one; the pandemic continues although we’ve moved into the Safer at Home and in the Great Outdoors phase; and worldwide protests decried the treatment of black people at the hands of police and within broader society and demanded change. Despite their limited time, the legislature moved quickly to address these and other issues.

Just about two weeks ago, Leroy Garcia, the Democratic Senate President, and Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) introduced SB2-217, the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill. The bill, with significant support (LiveWell was a supporter), was amended throughout the process and ultimately passed with bi-partisan support. The final bill contains multiple provisions, among them: 1) creating an explicit civil right of action for victims to file cases against officers in state court and officers cannot use qualified immunity as a defense (qualified immunity protects government officials from personal liability for actions taken within their official capacity even if the victim’s civil rights were violated); 2) mandates body cameras and holds officers accountable when they fail to record, as well as making video publicly available; 3) extensive data collection regarding all police encounters with the public; 4) limits deadly force by outlawing chokeholds, the use of deadly force when someone is fleeing police, use of deadly force when arresting people for minor offenses and non-violent offenses, and requires police to use non-violent means prior to resorting to deadly force; 5) requires other officers to intervene and stop the use of unlawful force; and 6) decertifies officers who use unlawful force and creates a database to prevent those officers from getting jobs in other jurisdictions within Colorado. This comprehensive bill fundamentally changes police practices and creates new accountability for police officers.

The legislature also used their condensed time to figure out how to balance the budget with a $3.3 billion deficit (25 percent of the state’s spending) resulting from the economic downturn related to our efforts to control COVID19. This was no easy task and many areas of the state budget, already lean, will certainly feel these cuts moving forward. The Joint Budget Committee, responsible for writing the state budget, made targeted cuts rather than taking an across the board approach. Education, which accounts for 36% of the state budget, suffered deep cuts despite the legislature’s efforts to limit damage in that area. K-12 funding saw a 10 percent cut while higher education, always a budget cutting target, will have to figure out how to manage a 58 percent reduction in state funding. Fortunately, however, for at least this year, CARES Act funding (emergency COVID-related money) from the federal government will help offset some of the cuts. The JBC reduced, by five percent, a set-aside for state employees totaling $111 million which could lead to furloughs, vacant position eliminations, and hiring freezes. The JBC also “swept” many cash funds, re-routing that $400 million to existing services and made other moves to utilize marijuana and tobacco tax money to help cover the budget hole. In the end, most departments received budget cuts and the legislature killed most previously introduced bills that had price tags attached to them. The bad news is that next year’s budget could be worse – depending on what happens with COVID and how our state manages opening the economy.

The good news – and there is some – is that state agencies and the legislature recognized the critical need for food system stability and food access during this crisis, and chose to retain or even increase funding for a few food system and food access related initiatives. The Healthy Food Incentive Fund that LiveWell created in 2018 retained its existing $200,000. This fund supports the Double Up Food Bucks program and the Colorado Nutrition Incentive program that increases healthy food access for people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Women, Infant, Children program, and the Older Adult Congregate Care program. Those programs also direct dollars to Colorado producers which in turn keeps money flowing in local economies. The legislature also prioritized the Food Pantry Assistance Grant program. This program, managed by Hunger Free Colorado, provides funding to food pantries so they can purchase fresh, healthy food from Colorado producers for their clients. The legislature wrote this program into law and provided $500,000 from the CARES Act for the next fiscal year (HB20-1422). Unfortunately, the Colorado School Food Purchasing Program bill LiveWell passed, with funding, last session fell victim to the budget issues. The nearly $700,000 in funding was removed from this program to help cover the budget deficit. However, the JBC retained the program in statute with the hope that funding will again be available in the future.

Finally, the legislature spent time working on and passing a slate of bills related to COVID19, utilizing some of the federal government funding. They debated and passed bills designed to assist business and protect workers, goals that were sometimes at odds. These included small business recovery loans (HB20-1413) and grants (SB20-222),  whistleblower protections in public health emergencies (HB20-1415), and ensuring paid sick leave for employees (SB20-205), among others. Another category of bills was conceived to assist the people of Colorado through this pandemic. They included, among others, relief funds for housing cash assistance (HB20-1410), protections against price gouging (HB20-1414), and expanded access to unemployment insurance (SB20-207).

One final note of interest: in early May, Governor Polis declared 2020 the Year of Local Food. The proclamation highlights the value of local agriculture in Colorado and notes that these small businesses are vital to our local economies and ensuring people have access to fresh, healthy food.

Federal Policy

Since the federal government’s deployment of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act in late March, the country has officially slid into a recession with double digit unemployment numbers. Attempting to control the economic devastation, states have begun to open parts of their economy while hoping to hold new COVID cases to a manageable level with regard to hospital capacity. While a recent jobs report provided a glimmer of economic hope, at least 20 states are seeing an uptick in virus cases. Figuring out the proper balance will take time. While state governments figure that out, and with jobs still scarce, people are waiting for the next round of economic assistance from the federal government.

The U.S. House of Representatives, in May, passed a $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) that authorizes another round of stimulus payments for most U.S. households. That bill now languishes in the U.S. Senate. The Senate’s Republican leadership has been noncommittal regarding the timing and extent of a new stimulus package, although the White House has indicated there will be another stimulus round. Meanwhile, members of Congress are planning for the next package by introducing a slate of “marker bills” – concepts and programs they hope will be folded into the next package. Included in those marker bills is the Food Supply Protection Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Bennet (D-CO), designed support small meat processing facilities, provide infrastructure grants for storage at food banks, and utilize incentives for surplus food purchasing. We will keep you updated regarding marker bills as they get sorted out once negotiations are underway.

Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) Dear Colleague Letter

LiveWell has been working with the members of the Colorado delegation to encourage them to sign onto the U.S. House “Dear Colleague” letter by Rep. Kildee (D-MI) and Rep. Crawford (R-AR) seeking support from leadership to include $51 million in emergency COVID funding for the GusNIP program, in any upcoming stimulus package negotiations. GusNIP funds Double Up Food Bucks, LiveWell’s program to provide incentives the SNAP participants to purchase Colorado-grown fruits and vegetables. Thus far, Colorado’s Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D) and Jason Crow (D) have signed on, joining 45 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

School Food Waivers

The School Nutrition Association is asking USDA to extend all the COVID-realted school food waivers through the 20/21 school year to provide certainty for families and school food programs. You can join the effort in asking for this extension here. When COVID hit and schools moved to online classes for the end of the 19/20 school year, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service enacted several waivers to help food programs ensure kids who depend on school food could continue to get food during the pandemic – and school food programs across the state creatively re-imagined their food programs to meet the challenge. Now that summer feeding programs are underway, those waivers continue to be essential to ensure food access for many kids. Expiration of the waivers will significantly restrict the ability of the school food and summer meal programs to operate in a COVID environment.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Food Research and Action Center just closed a sign-on urging Congress and the White House to immediately boost SNAP benefits and make investments in other critical nutrition programs with proven health and economic impacts. The investments include providing a 15 percent boost in the SNAP maximum benefit, an increase in the minimum SNAP monthly benefit from $16 to $30, and a suspension of SNAP time limits and rules changes that would cut SNAP eligibility and benefits. They are also asking that additional investments must be made to other nutrition programs, including Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Women Infant Children program, older adult nutrition programs, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. LiveWell signed onto this effort and we will keep you updated regarding the result.

Tools for COVID Response:

  • Find Emergency Meal Sites along with longer-term concerns, challenges, and more HERE.
  • Learn which Markets are accepting Double Up Food Bucks, as well as drop off, pick up, and delivery HERE.
  • Find Colorado Proud products for your business or home HERE.
  • Buyers and growers go HEREto find each other.
  • Track current resources for local and regional food systems HERE.
  • Find the latest and greatest public health and food safety information for farms HERE.

Bill Trackers

State

Colorado State Legislature: Colorado General Assembly Website 

The letters HB indicates the bill began in the House of Representatives. The letters SB indicates the bill began in the Senate. All bills must go through both the House and Senate before they can become law.

HB20-1196Mobile Home Park Act Updates: Reps. Hooten (D), McCluskie (D); Sens Fenberg (D), Lee (D) Clarifies responsibilities of mobile home park owners and rights of people residing in mobile home parks.
Passed legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

HB20-1201Mobile Home Park Residents Opportunity to Purchase: Rep. Hooten (D), Gonzalez-Gutierrez (D) and Sens Moreno (D), Ginal (D) Provides mobile home park residents the opportunity to purchase the park under specified circumstances.
Passed legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

HB20-1300Changes to Local School Food Purchasing Program: Reps. Buentello (D), Pelton (R), and Sens. Bridges (D), Coram (R) Technical corrections to local school food purchasing program established in 2019.
Signed by Governor – LWC position: Support

HB20-1415 – Whistleblower Protections in Public Health Emergencies: Reps. Herod (D), Sullivan (D), and Sens Pettersen (D), Rodriguez (D) Protects workers who raise health and safety concerns from retaliation and discrimination; requires employers to allow their workers to wear personal protective equipment; employees can seek relief by filing a complaint with Dept of Labor and district court.

Passed legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

HB20-1422 – Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program: Reps Esgar (D), Cutter (D) and Sens Zenzinger (D), Story (D) Establishes a program to provide cash assistance to food pantries to purchases food from Colorado producers. Funded at $500,000 with CARES Act money.

Passed Legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

SB20-29Cost of Living Adjustment for Colorado Works Program: Sen. Coleman (D) and Rep. Duran (D) Amended to provide a one-time $500 payment for participants in the Colorado Works program with a total payment cap of $10 million.
Passed Legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

SB20-90Limit Liability for Food Donations to Nonprofits; Sen. Winter (D) and Reps Esgar (D), Titone (D) Adds the Department of Corrections to entities with limited immunity from civil and criminal liability for food donations. Amendment added to also limit farmer liability for gleaning on their property.
Passed Legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

SB20-205 – Paid Sick Leave for Employees: Sens Fenberg (D), Bridges (D) and Reps Becker (D), Caraveo (D) Requires employers to provide paid sick leave for all employers; increases the sick leave available during a public health crisis.

Passed Legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

SB20-217 – Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity: Sens Garcia (D), Fields (D) and Reps Herod (D), Gonzales-Gutierrez (D) Makes specific changes to law enforcement actions and increases accountability for actions taken by law enforcement officers.

Passed Legislature, waiting for Governor signature – LWC position: Support

 

Federal

United States Congress: U.S. Congressional Website

The letters H.R. indicate bills introduced in the House of Representatives. The letter S indicates bills introduced in the Senate. All bills must go through both the House and Senate before they can become law. Congress considers around 5,000 bills each year – approximately 4% become law.

The following list was compiled prior to COVID. All bills are still active although it is unknown if or when Congress will begin to address non-COVID related issues.

H.R. 582 – Raise the Wage Act (Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-VA) Provides for increases in the federal minimum wage

Ordered Reported to the House for consideration – LWC position: Support

 

Companion Bill: S. 150 – Raise the Wage Act (Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-VT) Summary is same as H.R. 582.

Assigned to Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions – LWC position: Support

 

H.R. 832 – Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 (Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-PA) To amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to allow schools that participate in the school lunch program to serve whole milk.

Assigned to House Education and Labor – LWC position: TBD

 

H.R. 1066 – American Food for American Schools Act of 2019 (Rep. John Garamendi, D-CA) To strengthen the existing buy American provision in the National School Lunch program. Would require a waiver to buy foreign foods under which only two conditions would suffice to grant the waiver: 1) items not produced or sufficiently available from American producers, and 2) cost of the American product is significantly higher.

Assigned to House Education and Labor – LWC position: TBD

 

H.R. 1886 – Nutrition Coordinators for Local Healthy Youth Act (Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH) To amend the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to establish a grant program to appoint nutrition coordinators to oversee nutrition policies in local educational agencies, and other purposes

Assigned to House Education and Labor – LWC position: TBD

 

H.R. 1470 – Anti-Hunger Empowerment Act of 2019 (Rep. Josê Serrano, R-PA) To amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to provide greater access to SNAP by reducing administrative requirements and award grants to community groups for implementing a Beyond the Soup Kitchen Pilot Program for socially and economically disadvantaged populations, and for other purposes

Assigned to House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Dept. Operations – LWC position: TBD

 

H.R. 2688 – Salad Bars in Schools Expansion Act (Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-FL) To amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to expand the use of salad bars in schools

Assigned to House Education and Labor – LWC position: TBD

 

H.R. 3049 – School Nutrition Transparency for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 (Rep. Kim Schrier, D-WA) To ensure public disclosure of nutrition standards compliance by school food authorities and other purposes.

Assigned to House Education and Labor – LWC position: TBD

 

S. 47 – John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK) This bill sets forth provisions regarding various programs, projects, activities, and studies for the management and conservation of natural resources on federal lands. Includes provisions for recreational activities on federal and non-federal lands.

Enacted – Signed into law on March 12, 2019 – Incorporated 93% of the provisions of H.R 1184 (Every Kid Outdoors Act)

S. 175 – Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019 (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA; Michael Bennet, D-CO. others) To improve agricultural job opportunities, benefits, and security for immigrants in the United States, and for other purposes.

Assigned to Senate Judiciary – LWC position: Support

S. 302 – Land and Water Conservation Fund (Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC) To permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Assigned to Senate Energy and Natural Resources – LWC position: TBD

S. 385 – Fairness for Farmworkers Act (Kamala Harris, D-CA) Removes the exemption for farmworkers from the Fair Labor Standards Act granting them the same rights to overtime pay that other working people have had for 80 years. Also ends the remaining minimum wage exclusions for farmworkers (the exception for employers’ immediate family members’ remains).

Assigned to Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions – LWC position: Support

 

Companion Bill: H.R. 1080 – Fairness for Farmworkers Act (Raul Grijalva, D-AZ) Summary same as S. 385

Assigned to House Education and the Workforce – LWC position: Support

S. 1119 – Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019 (Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM) To amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to prohibit the stigmatization of children who are unable to pay for meals.

Assigned to Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry – LWC position: TBD

S. 1307 – Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2019 (Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM) To amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to improve nutrition in tribal areas and other purposes

Assigned to Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry – LWC position: TBD

 

Companion Bill: H.R. 2494 – Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2019 (Debra Haaland, D-NM) Summary same as S. 1307

Assigned to House Education and the Workforce – LWC position: TBD