The Daviess County Farm Bureau Board of Directors brought local, state and national leaders together at its annual legislative meeting that was held this week virtually.
COVID-19 was the main topic but other issues such as immigration reform and mental health were touched on during the hour-long Zoom session.
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican, gave an assessment of how Congress has tried to meet the country’s needs created by the pandemic.
Guthrie said the first major legislation — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — was designed to be a temporary measure because there was wide belief that COVID-19 would disappear during the warmer months.
“It was the one (virus) we didn’t want and the one that we said one of these days we were going to have ... that doesn’t go away when the weather gets warm,” Guthrie said. “A lot of the relief was targeted to this would be over by June or July and address it if it wasn’t.”
Although attempts have been made for a second relief package, Guthrie said both houses of Congress have been unable to come to an agreement.
“So I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next two weeks,” said Guthrie, adding that the uncertainty of the presidential election and unfilled seats in Congress will likely be factors going forward.
Guthrie then went to immigration reform, which affects agriculture when it comes to its labor force. The H-2A temporary agricultural program has allowed farmers to hire nonimmigrant foreign workers to perform seasonal jobs but nothing is there for keeping nonimmigrant labor year-round.
“There has always been big bipartisan support for immigration reform in the agriculture world,” Guthrie said. “We know we need not just seasonal workers but year-round workers. I know dairy farms don’t just need workers in the spring and the fall. Milk comes every day.”
In the House, Guthrie said most Republicans and Democrats agree on Dreamers — immigrants who were brought to the United States as children but are considered illegal residents. And he expressed that both sides were OK with the issue of temporary protective status, which allows nationals from some countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster to live and work in the United States for a limited time.
Guthrie said there’s likely not enough support for a pathway to citizenship for adult immigrants living illegally in the United States.
“I’ve talked to some people who say, ‘If I can just stay here legally and work; know that I’m here legally and don’t have to look over my shoulder every day, and my children can become citizens…,’ I think there is some room for that,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie ended his portion by giving a report on the COVID-19 vaccines.
Guthrie, who is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, has been privy to the progress of the vaccines and how they’ll be distributed through Operation Warp Speed — a public-private partnership initiated by the U.S. government to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Guthrie said the vaccines — one by Pfizer and the other by Moderna — are close to public distribution, and that he is confident in the science and the vetting behind the pharmaceutical breakthroughs.
“These vaccines have gone through FDA; they’re approved by an independent science board,” Guthrie said. “…These vaccines are as safe as any vaccine.”
According to Guthrie, frontline workers, health professionals and the elderly could start receiving the first doses by the end of December.
Guthrie called it one of “the greatest scientific efforts in human history” because most vaccines take years to decades to develop.
“You take the vaccine and you have about four weeks until you build immunity,” Guthrie said. “And then you take a booster and then it’s about two weeks until you get immunity.”
State Sen. Matt Castlen, a Daviess County Republican, said he wants a larger portion of Kentucky’s Tobacco Settlement to return to the counties. Since the 1998 agreement with the cigarette companies, the state has received nearly $3 billion.
“I serve on the appropriations committee and agriculture as well, so we’re going to continue to fight for the tobacco settlement money to come back to our local counties,” Castlen said.
Joan Hayden, president of the Daviess County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, addressed the need for better mental health care among the rural population, which includes farmers.
Hayden said Farm Bureau placed an emphasis on mental health during October.
“We are really pushing to make aware throughout the state — all the way up to Washington (D.C.) — the mental health … and physical health of the rural community,” Hayden said. “They kind of get left out. …We want to promote the screening and if they have a problem, there’s somebody they can talk to.”
If there was a positive outcome from COVID-19, Hayden said the pandemic did remind consumers why farmers are important to the nation’s food supply.
“People did realize it when the coronavirus started, and they went in (to the grocery) and there was no food,” Hayden said. “And guess what, it wasn’t in the back room.”
Don Wilkins, email@example.com, 270-691-7299