1-on-1 with Jerry Moran: On reopening KS, support for meat packing Executive Order

Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 7:36 PM CDT
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Senator Jerry Moran visited briefly with Eyewitness News Anchor Jacob Albracht Tuesday. The senator was in town for a meeting, but was able to talk with us at a safe social distance about a number of topics related to COVID-19 and its impact on Kansas' economy.

On Reopening

Albracht: Let’s start with reopening Kansas. It sounds like the stay-at-home order will not be extended. The plans are still coming later this week. Where do you think Kansas sits? What kind of advice have you been able to give? And what are your thoughts on Kansas getting back to work?

Senator Moran: My advice would be we need to take this in a manner that protects people’s health. We can’t afford to have this reoccur. But, we ought to do everything we can to open up society. Open up people getting back to work, in a way that is safe. Nothing will be perfect about this. It needs to be done on a gradual basis. We can test how things are going…. the country can’t afford an economy that’s not working. People can’t afford not to be at work. We don’t have the capability in Washington D.C. to keep spending money to solve people’s problems, so getting back to work is a very strong desire, but we just need to do it smart.

The good thing is, this is not a Washington D.C. issue. While the president is putting out guidelines and broad suggestions on how to do this, my view is this has to be done on a state-by-state basis. Kansas is not New York, and Johnson City, Kansas is not Johnson County, Kansas. We need to have the kinds of things done that make sense in a particular location, and we need to do it in a gradual way.

The President’s Executive Order

Albracht: What about the news of today, Tuesday, it looks like an Executive Order is coming to keep meat-processing plants open. That’s a really dynamic and interesting issue. There’s an obvious health aspect to it. There’s an obvious food supply chain issue to it. Where does that look like it’s going to go? And how can that be done safely?

Senator Moran: You know, throughout this whole COVID-19 circumstance, the policy issues that we’ve dealt with in Washington D.C. all have an economic [impact], and they all have a health [impact]. They are combined. It’s the circumstance we find ourselves in. How do we take care of both economics and health? This issue has a huge consequence to the country, but certainly to Kansas.

We are certainly a livestock state. We earn a living in agriculture. A lot of that has to do with people who raise crops to feed cattle. It has to do with people who feed cattle and raise cattle. And people who process those cattle. In the absence of meat processing, there is this backlog in which there is no place to take a cattleman’s livestock. That has consequences on prices. Meaning our farmers and ranchers are earning a lot less. And then it has a consequence in the grocery store. If you visit the grocery store and there aren’t meat products there, that’s going to be a whole different kind of circumstance for Kansans and Americans. Plus, all the people in Kansas who work in a meat-packing plant across our state, particularly in Southwest Kansas.

The president has signed an Executive Order requiring the processing plants to stay open. I understand the importance of that. I’m pleased the President is using the Defense Production Act to accomplish that. But I also don’t know yet how it works effectively, or how it works in a normal kind of circumstance. You can order someone to keep their business open, but if you don’t have employees who are capable of working, because of their health, or are concerned about going to work because of their health, ultimately the employees are going to decide whether a meat packing plant can operate.

I think we are where we have been for a while. Trying to give everything we can to the companies, and their employees the assurance and reality that the employees are safe in working in that environment.

Ford County Cases

Albracht: There are more cases in Ford County right now, and there’s more testing, but there are more cases than there are in Sedgwick County. The meat packing plant is a big reason for that, but what can be done? Is it just a different work environment created? Is it more incentives to the workers to help them make that difficult choice? We have seen some places increase pay if you have to put yourself more at risk. Is there anything that can be done to mitigate that sort of balancing act?

Senator Moran: I have had numerous conversations with the packing companies. Certainly with livestock producers and employees. The best thing that I can do is to try and help Kansas get more tests.

We talked about opening up Kansas, or opening up a community. There are going to be people in our state, or in the country, who at the drop of a hat when the president, or governor, or county commission says ‘it’s time to get back to work,’ there are many people who are going to jump at that chance. But there is another set of people who are reluctant to do that until they are certain their health is secure--that they are not bringing something home to their child. They’re not infecting their parents. That takes knowledge and knowledge is testing. In the absence of a vaccine, we need to have more testing available.

Meat-Packing Plant Legislation

Albracht: Is there any new legislation out there. We talked meat-packing, is there a new thought with that that some new legislation could get done? It looks like you guys will go back to the table on something.

Senator Moran: The United States Senate goes back to its work in Washington D.C. on Monday. That will give us the opportunity to have ideas about what to do. In regards specifically to meat processing and agriculture in general, I’m looking for ways that we can increase the roles that our small meat processing plants can play a larger role than they do today. What can we do to help livestock producers utilize what used to be available in almost all communities in Kansas. A locker plant. A small meat processing facility. They still exist. Not to the number that they used to, but are there things that prohibit them, or disincentives for them to grow their business. This creates an opportunity for ranchers, for livestock producers to have another option, if the large meat packing plant is not one.