Bipartisan support aims to ease burden on small meatpacking operations

WASHINGTON and EL DORADO, Kan. (KWCH) U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) Thursday introduced legislation aimed at helping small meatpacking plants operating longer hours during the COVID-19 pandemic "to keep our supply chain moving.)

The senators introduced the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Free Relief COVID-19 Act. Two U.S. Representatives, a South Dakota Republican and a Minnesota Democrat, introduced companion legislation in the House.

“Meat packers in Kansas and across the country are doing everything they can to stay open and work longer hours to keep our meat supply in stock during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Sen. Moran. “Unfortunately, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service charges meatpacking plants a fee for overtime hours for food inspectors, and this legislation would reduce these fees that discourage smaller packing plants from extending operating hours. During this pandemic, it is necessary we remove cost-prohibitive barriers so our packers can keep working, ranchers can harvest their livestock and Americans can have access to quality food.”

Sen. Bennett says in addition to prioritizing workers' health, legislators should be looking to reduce barriers for small meat packers "who are stepping up and running overtime" during the pandemic.

This bill would do just that by reducing fees for small meatpacking plants, expanding options for ranchers to harvest their livestock while maintaining strong safety standards," he says.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows cattle slaughter in May decreased by about 31 percent compared to last year, information in a news release from Moran's office says. That decrease is largely due to larger meatpacking plants temporarily closing due to COVID-19 cases at the plants. This, in turn, slowed processing operations and an increased dependence on smaller operations.

Linda Pechin-Long raises livestock and takes it to a processing facility with her position as owner of Graze the Prairie in El Dorado.

"We are now currently booked through 2021 because the processor is booked through February of next year,' she says.

To help assets like Graze the Praire, Kansas Meat Processing Association President Matt Carselowey says he's thankful for the cutback of extra costs that would discourage the smaller plants from extending hours.

"Government overtime fees can add up. It could save smaller processors hundreds, if not thousands, so every little bit helps," he says.