NEWS & ISSUES

USDA to Reopen FSA Offices for Additional Services During Government Shutdown

Today, Sec. Perdue announced the re-opening of all FSA county offices beginning Thursday, January 24th. Please see full press release below.

Of note:

  • Offices will be open for normal office hours 8am-4:30pm daily Monday-Friday, January 24-Feburary 8, 2019, reduced to Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday for all subsequent weeks beginning February 12.
  • Select Farm Programs and Farm Loan Programs are available. See list in Press Release Below.
  • MFP application deadline is February 14, 2019. MFP proof of yield deadline is May 1, 2019.
  • During office hours, walk-ins are always welcomed, however for more efficient service farmers, ranchers, and producers are encouraged to make an appointment by calling their local service center. Click here contact your local FSA Service Center.
  • Updates to available services and offices will be made during the lapse in federal funding on the FSA shutdown webpage (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/help/shutdowninfo).

For further information, please feel free to contact Audrey Bettencourt at USDA – Farm Service Agency at 530.792.5540 or Aubrey.Bettencourt@CA.USDA.GOV.

Press Release
USDA to Reopen FSA Offices for Additional Services During Government Shutdown

(Washington, D.C., January 22, 2019) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that all Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices nationwide will soon reopen to provide additional administrative services to farmers and ranchers during the lapse in federal funding.  Certain FSA offices have been providing limited services for existing loans and tax documents since January 17, and will continue to do so through January 23.  Beginning January 24, however, all FSA offices will open and offer a longer list of transactions they will accommodate.

Additionally, Secretary Perdue announced that the deadline to apply for the Market Facilitation Program, which aids farmers harmed by unjustified retaliatory tariffs, has been extended to February 14.  The original deadline had been January 15.  Other program deadlines may be modified and will be announced as they are addressed.

“At President Trump’s direction, we have been working to alleviate the effects of the lapse in federal funding as best we can, and we are happy to announce the reopening of FSA offices for certain services,” Perdue said.  “The FSA provides vital support for farmers and ranchers and they count on those services being available.  We want to offer as much assistance as possible until the partial government shutdown is resolved.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has temporarily recalled all of the more than 9,700 FSA employees to keep offices open from 8 am to 4:30 pm weekdays beginning January 24.  President Trump has already signed legislation that guarantees employees will receive all backpay missed during the lapse in funding.

For the first two full weeks under this operating plan (January 28 through February 1 and February 4 through February 8), FSA offices will be open Mondays through Fridays.  In subsequent weeks, offices will be open three days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, if needed to provide the additional administrative services.

Agricultural producers who have business with the agency can contact their FSA service center to make an appointment.

FSA can provide these administrative services, which are critical for farmers and ranchers, because failure to perform these services would harm funded programs.  FSA staff will work on the following transactions:

  • Market Facilitation Program.
  • Marketing Assistance Loans.
  • Release of collateral warehouse receipts.
  • Direct and Guaranteed Farm Operating Loans, and Emergency Loans.
  • Service existing Conservation Reserve Program contracts.
  • Sugar Price Support Loans.
  • Dairy Margin Protection Program.
  • Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage.
  • Livestock Forage Disaster.
  • Emergency Assistance Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program.
  • Livestock Indemnity Program.
  • Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
  • Tree Assistance Program.
  • Remaining Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program payments for applications already processed.

Transactions that will not be available include, but are not limited to:

  • New Conservation Reserve Program contracts.
  • New Direct and Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans.
  • Farm Storage Facility Loan Program.
  • New or in-process Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program applications.
  • Emergency Conservation Program.
  • Emergency Forest Rehabilitation Program.
  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
  • Grassroots Source Water Protection Program.

With the Office of Management and Budget, USDA reviewed all of its funding accounts that are not impacted by the lapse in appropriation. We further refined this list to include programs where the suspension of the activity associated with these accounts would significantly damage or prevent the execution of the terms of the underling statutory provision. As a result of this review, USDA was able to except more employees. Those accounts that are not impacted by the lapse in appropriation include mandatory, multiyear and no year discretionary funding including FY 2018 Farm Bill activities.

Updates to available services and offices will be made during the lapse in federal funding on the FSA shutdown webpage (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/help/shutdowninfo).  Programs managed by FSA that were re-authorized by the 2018 farm bill will be available at a later date yet to be determined.

Election Results Announced

The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association is pleased to announce the election results from this year’s election.  Up for election this year were four (4) Ginner Directors and (4) Grower Directors.  The four Ginner Directors ran opposed and were re-elected, and included John Colbert, Modern Ginning; Stan Creelman, of Mid Valley Cotton Growers; Adriane Carbonel, of Farmers Cooperative Gin Inc.; and Matt Toste, of Westside Farmers Coop, Huron Ginning Company and Pacific Ginning Company LLC.  There were five (5) candidates up for the four (4) Grower Director positions, which necessitated an election in Kern County.  Winning re-election were Jim Neufeld and Bryan Bone in Kern County, and Cannon Michael in Merced County.  Newly elected to the board is Tony Neves from Merced County.  All terms are for three (3) years.  Stepping down from the board this year was Robert McDonald from Merced County.  McDonald has served on the Board since 2007, and the Association is extremely grateful for his dedicated service to the board in representing cotton growers in Merced County.

California Energy Commission Kicks Off Renewable Energy Agriculture Program

The California Energy Commission is inviting small, medium and large farms to a special Grant Funding Opportunity (GFO) for the Renewable Energy for Agriculture Program (REAP)REAP grants range from $25,000 to $350,000 and support renewable energy upgrades for agricultural operations such as:

  • Installation of Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, wind turbines, and biomass-to-energy generation
  • Replacement of diesel powered irrigation pumps and equipment with electric pumps
  • Electric tractors and equipment charging infrastructure for use in the agricultural operation

Applications accepted until March 5, 2019.   Watch a video to learn more : https://youtu.be/uvKtQ2vpVKQ and please plan to attend one of the 3 upcoming workshops with Energy Commission Staff  to learn how to apply and ask questions!  You can attend in person or remotely via web-ex.

Pre-Application Workshops dates, times and locations:

January 24, 2019, 1:00 P.M.

California Energy Commission

Sacramento, CA

 

January 28, 2019, 1:00 P.M.

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District

Fresno, CA

 

January 30, 2019, 2:00 P.M.

Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association

Imperial Valley, CA

For more information go to https://www.energy.ca.gov/renewables/reap/  or contact RoseMary Avalos in the  Public Adviser’s Office for further questions at 916.654.4489 or publicadviser@energy.ca.gov.

 

UPDATE USDA Farm Service Agency Limited County Office Hours January 17th, 18th, & 22nd

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that many Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will reopen temporarily in the coming days to perform certain limited services for farmers and ranchers. [CLICK HERE to read official press release.] The following California FSA Offices will be open for Farm Loan Program Service only January 17th, 18th, and 22nd from 8am-4:30pm.

Farm Loan Program services available include Processing Payments made on or before Dec. 31, 2018, Continuing Expiring Financing Statements, and Responding to General Loan Inquires. Producers are encouraged to call their nearest FSA Farm Loan Program Service Center listed above with any questions.

Farm Program services, such as MFP, will not be administered at this time. However due to the extension previously granted on MFP, I’d encourage your producers to email their applications to their FSA county directors whose contact can be found here. MFP applications will be processed as soon as normal operations resume upon conclusion of the shutdown. Producers who already applied for MFP and certified their 2018 production by December 28, 2018 should have already received their payments.

In California, USDA County Service Centers NRCS offices are open daily.  Any NRCS inquires or business, producers can call or visit their county NRCS service center.

 

USDA Farm Service Agency Limited County Office Hours January 17th, 18th, & 22nd

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that many Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will reopen temporarily in the coming days to perform certain limited services for farmers and ranchers. [CLICK HERE to read official press release.] The following California FSA Offices will be open for Farm Loan Program Service only January 17th, 18th, and 22nd from 8am-4:30pm.

 

Farm Loan Program services available include Processing Payments made on or before Dec. 31, 2018, Continuing Expiring Financing Statements, and Responding to General Loan Inquires. Producers are encouraged to call their nearest FSA Farm Loan Program Service Center listed above with any questions.

Farm Program services, such as MFP, will not be administered at this time. However due to the extension previously granted on MFP, I’d encourage your producers to email their applications to their FSA county directors whose contact can be found here. MFP applications will be processed as soon as normal operations resume upon conclusion of the shutdown. Producers who already applied for MFP and certified their 2018 production by December 28, 2018 should have already received their payments.

In California, USDA County Service Centers NRCS offices are open daily.  Any NRCS inquires or business, producers can call or visit their county NRCS service center.

If you have any questions, please contact Aubrey Bettencourst at USDA- Farm Service agency at  Aubrey.Bettencourt@CA.USDA.GOV or 530.792.5540.

Market Facilitation Program Deadline Approaching

Attention Cotton Growers: USDA California Farm Service Agency has the Market Facilitation Program that provides payments to cotton producers who have been significantly impacted by actions of foreign governments resulting in the loss of traditional exports.

  • Growers Must sign up by January 15
  • 2018 production not required at sign up
  • 2018 production must be submitted by May 1, 2019
  • Visit www.farmers.gov/mfp for more information
  • To Sign up please contact your local FSA Office

USDA launched the trade mitigation package aimed at assisting farmers suffering from damage due to unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations. Cotton Producers are eligible to sign up for the Program. MFP provides payments to cotton producers who have been significantly impacted by actions of foreign governments resulting in the loss of traditional exports.

The sign-up period for MFP runs through Jan. 15, 2019, with information and instructions provided at www.farmers.gov/mfp.  A payment will be issued on 50 percent of the producer’s total production, multiplied by the MFP rate for a specific commodity. A second payment period, if warranted, will be determined by the USDA.

For a list of initial MFP payments rates, view the MFP Fact Sheet.

MFP applications are available online at www.farmers.gov/mfp. Applications can be completed at a local FSA office or submitted electronically either by scanning, emailing, or faxing. To locate or contact your local FSA office, visit www.farmers.gov.

New Employment Laws that will Affect Employers

By: Jeanne Rosenberg

Governor Jerry Brown has signed all the legislative bills for 2018, his last as Governor of California, clearing the way for newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom to take his place next year. We now provide you with a compilation of employment related laws effective January 1, 2019, except when otherwise indicated.

AB 1066: Phase In of Overtime for Farmworkers

AB 1066, which went into effect in 2017, phases in new overtime requirements for agricultural employers, the first of which begins as the clock strikes midnight at the New Year.  Starting in 2019, AB 1066 lowers the 10-hour-day threshold for overtime to 9.5 hours in a day and 55 hours per week when overtime pay is requiredThis only applies to employers with 26 or more employees.

Not only does this affect overtime wages, but also causes an adverse effect to employees on the minimum amount of paid sick leave employers are required to offer. Under California’s paid sick leave law, employees should be given the greater of either 24 hours or three days of PSL, regardless of whether the frontloading or accrual method is selected. This means that employees whose regular work day are 9.5 hours would get a minimum of 28.5 hours of paid sick leave per year. 

For more information regarding this bill and its gradual phase-in to the standard 8 hour day/40 hour workweek model, see our previous post here.

SB 1300: Expanded Fair Employment and Housing Act

As we previously reported hereemployers will be prohibited, with certain
exceptions, from requiring an employee to sign a release of claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act in exchange for a raise or bonus, or as a condition of employment or continued employment. Employers are also prohibited from requiring an employee to sign a non-disclosure agreement that aims to deny the employee the right to disclosure of unlawful acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment.

SB 820: Settlement Disclosure of Sexual Harassment Claims

Settlement agreements entered into will prohibit and make void any provision that prevents the disclosure of factual information related to civil or administrative complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, workplace harassment, or discrimination based on sex. As previously reported here, this bill does not prevent parties from mutually agreeing to settle, but it will prohibit individuals and/or businesses from requiring a claimant to remain silent about the alleged assault/harassment as a condition of settlement. Further, SB 820 expressly authorizes provisions that (1) preclude the disclosure of the amount paid in settlement of a claim and (2) protect the claimant’s identity and any fact that could reveal the identity, so long as the claimant has requested such anonymity and the opposing party is not a government agency or public official.

AB 3109: Disclosure of Sexual Harassment

AB 3109 makes a provision in a contract or settlement agreement void and unenforceable if it waives a party’s right to testify in any proceeding concerning alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment. In many settlement/severance agreements, it is not uncommon to include a provision that a former employee will not participate in any actions against the employer or will not make any disparaging remarks against the employer. Now, any provision that does not allow an employee to testify when they are required by subpoena or requested in writing by an administrative agency or legislature will be void. This bill was previously reported here.

SB 1343: Expanded Duties for Employers Regarding Sexual Harassment Training

SB 1343 requires an employer of five or more employees to provide sexual harassment training within 6 months of assuming their position and once every two years thereafter. By January 1, 2020, all supervisors must receive at least two hours of training, and all nonsupervisory employees must receive at least one hour. For more information regarding this bill, see our previous post here.
AB 1976: Accommodation for Lactation
This bill requires employers to make reasonable efforts to provide workers with a use of a room or private area that is not a restroom to pump breast milk. Existing law required that employers only make a reasonable effort to provide both a lactation space that is not a bathroom stall. If an employer can demonstrate that providing a separate room (other than a bathroom) would create an undue hardship, an employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide an employee with the use of a room or other location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the employee’s work area, for the employee to express milk in private. For more information regarding this bill, see our previous post here.

AB 1654: Expanded Exemption of PAGA Claims for Union Construction Employers

This bill exempts employers in the construction industry from claims under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) if the employees are covered under a valid collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) in effect any time before January 1, 2025 that expressly provides for the wages, hours of work, and working conditions of employees. As previously posted here, this applies to any CBA in currently in effect until the CBA expires or January 1, 2028, whichever is earlier.

SB 1252: Right to Receive a Copy of Employment Records
Labor Code section 226 is amended to provide employees the right to receive a copy of their employment records. If requested by the employee, the employer must provide copies to the employee rather than require the employee copy the records on their own.

SB 224: Sexual Harassment Relationships Expanded to Venture Capital Industry
Civil Code section 51.9 is amended to expand the definition of sexual harassment under the Unruh Act, a California civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on things like sex, race, religion, age and disability. The Unruh Act, in its previous form, prohibited sexual harassment between people who have a business relationship but don’t work for the same company and the plaintiff was not able to easily terminate the business relationship. Now, under SB 224, a plaintiff has a viable claim for sexual harassment if they prove, among other things, that the defendant holds himself or herself out as being able to help the plaintiff establish a business, service, or professional relationship with the defendant or a 3rd party. In addition, the amendment eliminates the element that the plaintiff prove there is an inability by the plaintiff to easily terminate the relationship.

Furthermore, to drive the point home, the statute has been amended to specifically include lobbyists, elected officials, directors, producers, and investors as examples of persons that can be subject to a claim for sexual harassment.

SB 1412: New Limits on Criminal Background Checks

Labor Code section 432.7 is amended to limit the exception for both public and private employers that are required by law to screen applicants using a criminal background check. The new law only permits inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history to a “particular conviction” that is relevant to the position sought by the applicant. Particular convictions is defined as “conviction for specific criminal conduct or a category of criminal offenses prescribed by [law] that contains requirements [and/or] exclusions…expressly based on that specific criminal conduct or category of criminal offenses.” Inquiries into particular convictions are only permitted in the following situations:

  • The employer is required by law to obtain information regarding the particular conviction of the applicant, regardless of whether that conviction has been expunged, judicially ordered sealed, statutorily eradicated, or judicially dismissed following probation;
  • The employer requires the applicant to possess or use a firearm in the course of his or her employment;
  • An individual with that particular conviction is prohibited by law from holding the position sought by the applicant, regardless of whether that conviction has been expunged, judicially ordered sealed, statutorily eradicated, or judicially dismissed following probation;
  • The employer is prohibited by law from hiring an applicant who has that particular conviction, regardless of whether that conviction has been expunged, judicially ordered sealed, statutorily eradicated, or judicially dismissed following probation.

SB 826: Women on Corporate Boards
By close of 2019, SB 826 requires public companies whose principal executive offices are located in California to have at-least one female director on its board. By the close of 2021, must comply with the following standards:

  • Four or fewer board members: minimum of 1 female director;
  • 5 board members: 2 female directors;
  • 6+ board members: minimum of 3 female board members.

For more information regarding this bill, see our previous post here.

SB 970: Human Trafficking

As previously posted here, by January 1, 2020 and every two years thereafter, hotels and motels must provide at least 20 minutes of training and education regarding human trafficking awareness to an employee who will likely interact or come into contact with victims of human trafficking, such as an employee who works in a reception area, performs housekeeping duties, help customers in moving their possessions, or drives customer.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:

There are a lot of new laws this year; please make sure to take the time to understand the implications of these laws and how they may affect your company. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the new bills or how to comply with their requirements, please do not hesitate to contact the experts at the Saqui Law Group.

Cal/OSHA Electronic Reporting

Cal/OSHA’s Emergency Regulations for Workplace Injuries require employers to electronically submit their 2017 Form 300A on the OSHA ITA Launch Website by December 31, 2018 to comply.  This regulation is in compliance with federal OSHA requirements.  Please visit the OSHA ITA Launch Website, for instructions https://www.osha.gov/injuryreporting/index.html. Should you need assistance, please contact Elda Brueggemann for step-by-step instructions.