Welcome to the Nourish Colorado policy blog! We’d like to make this an extensive welcome, but there’s so much to get to, so we’ll just simply say – we’re glad to see you here and we look forward to having you back each month as we bring you all the political context and policy happenings in the world of food systems.
The state legislature gaveled into an unusual session on Wednesday, January 13. This first regular session of the 73rd general assembly is unusual because the legislature convened for three days and then recessed until Tuesday, February 16th. The ongoing, and spiking, COVID pandemic drove this decision. What’s not unusual, or at least unchanged from the previous legislative session, is the Democratic trifecta: control of the Governor’s Office with Governor Polis just over halfway through his first term, control of the House of Representatives by a wide 41-24 margin, and control of the Senate with a 20-15 advantage.
The first three days of the session gave us a hint of how the rest of the session may go: contentious, but productive. Sandwiched between Republican rules challenges on Wednesday and a Republican invocation of a rule 24 formal protest objecting to the COVID-related, month long recess on Friday, the legislature elected its leadership and passed seven bills. Alec Garnett (D-Denver) and Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) were elected Speaker of the House and Senate President, respectively. This is Garnett’s first turn as speaker while Garcia is returning to the position he held in the 72nd general assembly. Hugh McKean (R-Loveland) gained the position of House minority leader after the previous leader Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) declined to run, while Chris Holbert (R-Parker) retained his Senate minority leader position.
The seven bills passed in the three-week legislative session start were necessary to correct errors in previous legislation and address some COVID-related relief efforts related to small business, electronic wills, tax liability deductions and addressing political meetings and proceedings.
Following the passage of all seven bills, and lengthy debates over rules and adjournment, the legislature recessed Friday until February. Legislators will be taking up a more comprehensive legislative calendar upon their return and we will be pursuing additional funding for Healthy Food Incentives – more information to come! You can stay up to date on farm and food legislation at the state and federal levels by visiting our bill trackers. You can also find the bill tracker links on the policy page of our website.
At the federal level, despite the tumultuous post-election environment, Congress did manage to pass a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package combined with a $1.4 trillion government funding package that keeps the government open through September 2021. Additionally, incoming President-elect Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion-dollar COVID relief package. Stay tuned to see how that turns out.
Some farm and food highlights from the COVID relief package and the spending bill:
- An infusion of $75 federal funds to GusNIP grantees (like Nourish!) to help us address increasing demand in the Double Up Food Bucks Program. Additionally, those funds could drive down the local match requirement enabling us to do more and be more flexible with the funds.
- Additional funding to get to a total of $21 million in agriculture appropriations for the Women, Infant, Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The timing on this increase is excellent as Colorado recently applied to participate in this program for the first time.
- $100 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) to support local farmers, farmers markets, and value-added production for farmers and outlets who are impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions and other programs within that support local & regional food systems.
- A much sought after 15% increase in the maximum SNAP benefit for 6 months, bringing $81 million more dollars to Colorado, as well as the extension of the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program that helps families make up for missing school meal programs.
- SNAP online capacity improvements and technical assistance for farmers and farmers markets using the system are also included. Expanded EBT online acceptance and technical assistance for producers is probably our partners’ most common request.
- $75 million to the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program to support groups providing beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers with financial and marketing advice and technical assistance in this difficult market, including help in accessing Federal and State assistance programs.
- CFAP 3.0 provides the largest source of direct payment aid to farmers and include the eligibility of contract growers to receive direct payments and the ability for the Secretary to increase payments to producers that have higher value crops (e.g., grass-fed, organic, or locally marketed).
Nourish Colorado will now turn our attention to working to make sure Colorado partners can take advantage of these new resources, and that they make their way to those who have been most impacted by the pandemic and have been left out of federal responses in the past.
For additional information, these two links contain comprehensive summaries of the COVID relief package that impacts the farm and food system:
Senate Ag Committee press release: https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/newsroom/dem/press/release/ranking-member-stabenow-leads-bipartisan-effort-to-secure-increases-in-food-assistance-support-for-farmers-in-final-covid-19-package
While we are encouraged, at the state and federal level, for the commitment to help ensure people have access to nutritious food during this pandemic, several opportunities to improve our food system remain. We will be identifying and tackling those issues moving forward. We look forward digging into this work alongside you!