This NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee (COAC) Committee update provides membership with brief, but important updates and reminders concerning COC elections, ballot counting and COC involvement with the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC).
We understand this is a busy time and we are all preparing for COC elections and ballot counting during unprecedented times. This is certainly no easy task. Moving forward, county offices will bring new COC members on in January. As always, informing and educating our new and old COC members about NAFEC is important. NAFEC is the employee association for County Committee members. NAFEC represents committee members just like NASCOE represents county office employees. As a reminder, NAFEC handles numerous issues for not only County Committees, but also County Office Employees across the nation.
Recently, NAFEC has stressed the importance of conducting ballot counting in a safe manner, while also following the processes outlined in statue, regulation, and handbook policy. The attached letter from NAFEC, is a great example of what NAFEC is doing for COC members, while highlighting their concerns, as we prepare for COC elections and ballot counting in the coming days. Please continue to look for future bulletins concerning NAFEC and other information prior to January Organizational Meetings. As always, if you have any questions, please reach out to the NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee by emailing .
This is your NASCOE President, Brandon Wilson coming to you from the farm where I’ve been using a little annual leave to help with harvest.
Things are definitely crazy around here… we are harvesting soybeans and corn. Also, we are planting wheat and moving cattle around.
Busy is good and I wouldn’t trade this mini-vacation for nothing.
And speaking of annual leave, we know many of you haven’t been able to take leave this year since you’ve been busy administering important programs such as: MFP2, ARC/PLC, Disaster Programs (such as WHIP, ECP, ELAP, LFP AND LIP) and acreage reporting.
MOST important however, has been your work on administering CFAP 1 & CFAP 2 during the national health emergency.
This unexpected work was (and is) being administered in a very quick fashion because of your tireless efforts and extra time spent at work. -your farmers and ranchers appreciate your efforts very much – and they thank you.
In addition, we’ve heard from many of you about the inability to use leave because of your dedicated time at work to administer these programs which are critical to the citizens of the United States.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) realizes the predicament Federal employees face with use or lose leave.
OPM has determined that a new benefit may apply to Federal employees who helped our nation during the national health emergency. Agencies (such as USDA) can decide to allow some employees to carry more than 30 days of annual leave into calendar year 2021, provided they were unable to schedule that leave due to their work responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
If USDA decides to qualify COF employees, like you and me, they will be able participate in a streamlined process for “essential” employees to carry over leave next year. This streamlined process would mean we do not need to schedule leave in advance for it to be considered cancelled.
While we all agree that carrying over leave is not ideal and can create problems in the long run, we also know that 2020 was an unusual year AND we have earned leave and we have a right to take it.
NASCOE believes the FSA COF employees should have the opportunity to have this benefit- similar to other Federal employees in other agencies that helped provide relief.
Furthermore, NASCOE agrees with OPM that agencies must let their employees know soon if they qualify for the leave carry over assistance benefit. Employees would need to know IF their services have been designated as essential during the emergency employees so they can begin planning.
NASCOE has urged management at USDA to not hesitate in designating FSA COF employees as essential during the health emergency. It is key that they declare our work on COVID-19 relief an “exigency of the public business.” AND that they notify employees soon of this status so that employees can make leave plans.
This morning, Web Transmittal 664 was posted. Below is an overview of the software updates implemented over the weekend:
The Farm Record’s Recent items on the left navigation has been changed to display the Admin County-Admin State-Farm Number instead of displaying the IBase number:
The Field Level Farm Hierarchy Display has been enhanced to expand upon selection so all field level attributes in the hierarchy can be seen and are not truncated. The farm hierarchy will only expand when a field is selected from the hierarchy list:
The system will now allow a CCC-517 to redistribute bases between tract prior to a CCC-505 when a farm is out-of-balance. This will allow producers to adjust bases between tracts using the wizard before completing a permanent base reduction for the farm. This was an indicated pain point from county office staff and NASCOE.
The system will now calculate the CCC-505 CRP Reduction acres during a tract division. Reduction acres will be prorated to resulting tracts based on the number of CRP cropland acres each tract receives. Users will still need to enter a new CRP contract number in the wizard for the resulting tracts. Subparagraph 309 C, step 13G provides instructions for prorating CCC-505 CRP Reduction acres during a tract division. These steps will be amended with the next handbook update to indicate that the system will now perform the proration calculation in the wizard. All other instructions remain the same.
Producer notification letters have been added to the “More” dropdown menu. Notification letters for owner and operator changes and boundary/acreage changes can now be generated when required according to 10-CM. The following four types of letters have been included, which are based off the notification letters in 10-CM with some modification to allow for the system generation in CRM:
Boundary and Acreage Change
Operator Change Notification Letter
Owner Change Notification Letter to Current/Prior Owners
Owner Change Notification Letter to Operator
Basic steps to generate a notification letter include:
Select the “More” drop down menu → Select “Producer Notification Letters”
Select the Notification Letter Type from the drop down menu
Select the applicable producer
Click “Producer Notification” icon to generate the letter
Additional guidance for the notification letters is forthcoming. This will be included in the next update to 10-CM.
As you are likely aware, the NASCOE Board of Directors recently met via conference call. The sole item of business was to consider how we should move forward with the 2020 National Convention in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. NASCOE finds itself in an unprecedented situation and the safety of our members and partners must be our number one concern. Additionally, NASCOE also has an obligation to limit the potential liability to our association. After much consideration, the Board of Directors voted to cancel the 2020 National Convention in Savannah, GA. This decision was not taken lightly, and we want to personally thank all the individual Board members (two from each state) for their preparation, diligence, and careful weighing of the choices.
NASCOE’s National Convention is primarily our annual business meeting. While we won’t able to conduct that face-to-face this year, we still plan on having an annual meeting in some fashion. Research has begun on alternatives to allow us to have a virtual meeting. The alternatives would facilitate our elections, area breakouts, committee updates, and as many of the business functions of the convention as possible. We’ll be engaging membership in how best to accomplish this and welcome your suggestions.
One can hardly count all the benefits that NASCOE brings, but fellowship and community are toward the top of the list. We know that it is disappointing that we won’t be able to see each other, share stories and enjoy each other’s company. However, these challenges won’t last forever and before you know it, we’ll all be together in Fort Wayne, IN for the 2021 convention. We will also get to experience the hospitality of Georgia, as they will now host us in Savannah in 2022.
Thank you all for everything you do and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments.
Rick Csutoras and Curt Houk National Convention Co-Chairs
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the(CARES Act)
Neil Burnette and Clint Bain, Legislative Committee Co-Chairs
to the national crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed a
massive stimulus package assisting both businesses and individuals. The
stimulus package will impact the Farm Service Agency and our NASCOE membership.
Below is a brief
summary of these provisions:
The bill provides $3 million for hiring temporary staff and paying for overtime expenses at the Farm Service Agency to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.
The bill includes a $14 billion boost in funding authority for USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation.
The legislation provides $9.5 billion for assisting livestock operations, including dairy farmers, as well as fruit-and-vegetable (specialty) crop producers. Farmers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools and restaurants would also be eligible for aid.
The bill allows the Secretary of Agriculture to extend the term of a marketing assistance loans for any commodity to 12 months. The authority will expire September 30th, 2020.
The stimulus package provides payments to individuals based on your 2018 or 2019 adjusted gross income. The maximum amount you can receive is $1,200, or if married filing jointly, $2,400 per couple. That amount phases out for single filers with an AGI between $75,000 and $99,000, joint filers with an AGI between $150,000 and $198,000 and heads of household with an AGI between $112,500 and $146,500. Those who qualify for the $1,200 credit will also receive an additional $500 for each qualifying dependent 16 years old or younger. The stimulus money is technically a tax credit for 2020 that will be paid out, in advance, as soon as possible. Individuals with direct deposits established with the IRS could see these deposits within a couple of weeks.
The Legislative team has been closely following
this process and we will monitor how the department responds to these
opportunities as a result of the increased funding. We will provide additional information as it
It’s hard to describe what a confusing and stressful time these last couple of weeks have been for all of us. The news concerning the COVID-19 Pandemic has turned ever more alarming and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this has created lots of anxiety. We find ourselves worried about interactions with our producers, our co-workers, and even our high-risk family members. As USDA has been balancing service to our producers with employee health and safety, concerns have rapidly mounted. We have been working with FSA leadership to share these worries and issues and would like to take some time now to share where we are today.
The absolute greatest concern we all have is for the health and safety of ourselves, our families, and our producers. All week long, CED’s and PTs have been calling, e-mailing, and texting NASCOE representatives conveying concerns about interacting with the public in our offices and we in turn have shared these concerns with management. The Department initially responded by implementing a screening tool to try and assess our producers before they entered our offices. As this became inadequate, we shifted to limiting visitors. Now, beginning this week, FSA will be prohibiting visitors from entering any USDA Service Center. As the calls for social distancing increased, NASCOE also heard worries about whether employees would be safe amongst themselves in the same building. We shared these concerns with leadership as well. Beginning this week, FSA will be limiting the number of employees in the service center to decrease our possible exposure with each other. Alternative working arrangements may be made for employees who have dependents at home or who certify to being high-risk.
Of course, prohibiting visitors and limiting employees in the Service Center influences customer service. Agriculture is integral to our survival and it is critical that USDA continues to serve our producers to the greatest extent possible. We also know from feedback that we heard during the recent government furlough that everyone wants to continue to work rather than fall further behind. To meet this need, the agency is authorizing FSA employees to telework in certain circumstances. We know this involves being both telework ready and having meaningful work that can be done remotely. Telework is relatively new to most of us and we know there are a lot of questions on how this will work. Once again, we have been sharing these concerns with management. New telework arrangements won’t be ideal or efficient, but they do present some opportunities to continue servicing our producers during this very tough agricultural climate. More important, it is good to know we can service our producers and feel safer than we did a week ago. For those employees who are directed to be out of the office but can’t telework, administrative weather and safety leave is available.
Finally, the situation has been changing very rapidly. We are aware that not every employee in every state is receiving the same message. We have expressed to management the importance of consistent communication. Last Friday, FSA held a conference call for all employee associations. This call was very much appreciated by the NASCOE leadership. NASCOE members should be receiving these notes via email shortly. The agency has also committed to having more of these conference calls as the situation changes. Questions about the new status of FSA employees are common and, in some cases, folks are still looking for answers. In an effort to respond to our membership’s needs during this challenging time, NASCOE has put together a page on our website to provide information about policy that management has presented to state offices. On this page you will find guidelines, notes, frequently asked questions, updates on agency actions and links to websites. This page will be continually updated with new information. You can find this website at: https://nascoe.org/nascoe-covid-19-resources/
NASCOE stands ready to help its members and looks forward to hearing your comments concerns as this unprecedented situation moves forward.
I know there is a lot of conflicting information nationwide concerning FSA’s recent guidance on employee teleworking. NASCOE has been in regular contact with the agency and they are sharing the employee friendly measures they are implementing while balancing USDA’s need to continue serving our producers. Unfortunately, some of our fellow employees in the field are not receiving this news.
This week during the employee association meeting with management, it became apparent that the office of the Deputy Administrator for Field Operations (DAFO) has listened to NASCOE membership’s concerns about our safety and well being. In response, they have worked very hard to provide flexibility to help our employees and farmers work through this unprecedented tough spell. At this meeting, NASCOE expressed concerns over the inconsistency in some State Offices sharing and implementing these measures. I was proud to hear the National Association of District Directors (NADD) speak up and stand tall with NASCOE and reiterate the need for consistency in messaging. Both organizations did what they were supposed to do, advocate for their members.
Communication and consistency are key in these troubled times. While we are hopeful that agency response becomes more steady in the future, NASCOE will work to educate our membership on the guidance as we understand it.
Later this weekend, NASCOE will be providing an update on how we have been navigating through these uncharted waters as we serve our PT’s and CED’s. We will also continue to seek changes where needed, provide clarification, useful tools, and policy updates as they become available.
I want to thank each one of you for your support of NASCOE, it means a lot.
NASCOE has been in communication with management over Departmental directives which were issued to all FSA employees late Friday evening.
It has been confirmed that, unless prior leave arrangements have been made, FSA employees should report to work this week per approved and normal work schedules so they can review and be brought up to speed on the latest guidance.
NASCOE has, and will continue to express concerns of county office employees regarding this unprecedented situation to management.
Many of you have been watching the news and following the development of the Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID‑19. In just the last few days, we’ve seen many events get cancelled, such as the Farm Bureau Leadership Conference in Kentucky and the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo. Sporting leagues are canceling games or ending their seasons early. These cancellations are disruptive and inconvenient, but they are being cancelled out of an abundance of caution for everyone’s safety. NASCOE and our affiliates are unfortunately required to make similar difficult decisions.
We encourage you to read the following important update on NASCOE Events from NASCOE President, Brandon Wilson.
The NASCOE Leadership team anticipates updating membership with additional information as the status of the COVID-19 outbreak evolves.