At the same time Vice President Mike Pence was in Iowa on Friday to discuss the nation’s food supply security, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack called on the administration to take more measures to protect workers in food processing plants.
Loebsack also questioned the decisions to reopen the economy being made by the Trump administration and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“I don’t think we’re ready for that yet, quite honestly,” the Iowa City Democrat said.
“Ready” will be when adequate protections are in place for the people processing America’s food, Loebsack said.
Workers are showing up on the job, but “they fear for their families, they fear for themselves, they fear for everybody,” Loebsack said. “They don’t know if they’re going to catch this thing or not. But they’re there.”
Of particular concern are workers in food processing, such as those in meatpacking plants in Iowa where more than 1,600 cases of COVID-19 have been reported.
“I really believe that we should not open the plants if we do not ensure worker safety,” Loebsack said.
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He called for President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act, which the president invoked to keep meatpacking plants open, to ensure an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for packing plant workers.
If Pence and the president are concerned about the nation’s food supply, then they need to “keep those workers safe and, therefore, keep those processing plants running” to avoid meat shortages at the grocery store, Loebsack said.
“We can’t have those plants running if workers are not protected. It’s that simple,” he said. “It’s not just the workers, it’s the families, it’s the community at large.”
With unemployment at 14.7 percent — probably higher, Loebsack said, Congress should extend federal coronavirus-related unemployment benefits of $600 a week beyond their current July end date.
He’s also pleased that the last relief package fixed a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to allow farmers to apply for assistance.
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