ALEXANDRIA, Va. — On April 13-14, floral industry members will gather virtually with the key decision makers on Capitol Hill. Over a dozen meetings will take place as part of SAF’s annual Congressional Action Days (CAD) making sure floral industry needs are heard.
During this year’s virtual event, attendees will zero in on four key issues: immigration reform, research funding, cost savings on imports and maintaining the minimum wage. Through a series of targeted meetings, growers, wholesalers, retailers and suppliers will educate Congress, key staffers on the Hill and federal agency members on the importance of these issues.
Overview of 2021 issues:
Floriculture & Nursery Research Initiative: More Research Funding
What SAF is Asking: Congress to increase its financial support for FNRI by $1 million.
Background: FNRI is a federally funded program through the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). It was initially conceived by the industry in the 1980s with the intent to help guide and support floriculture and nursery research priorities.
Importance to the industry: FNRI is vital to our efforts to respond to pest and disease challenges, enhance the efficiency and sustainability of our production practices, and broaden the message of the positive environmental and social impact of our crops. With the appropriate resources, FNRI can play a significant role in the floriculture industry’s pursuit of reducing crop inputs and cutting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) throughout the supply chain.
General System of Preferences Reauthorization: Cost Savings on Imports
What SAF is Asking: Congress to take immediate action to renew GSP.
Background: The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) has been in place for more than 45 years, promoting opportunity for the least economically developed countries abroad and supporting U.S. businesses that rely on imported products to sustain and grow their businesses.
Importance to the industry: U.S. floral retailers have benefitted greatly from duty-free imports of cut flowers both through trade agreements and GSP. Nearly 80% of cut flowers purchased in the U.S. are grown in other countries and almost 95% of those imported come from countries where relief from duties is applied. Local and family-owned floral shops and wholesalers are facing increased pressures through state actions on minimum wage, increased costs of healthcare and other challenges, the cost savings through duty-free imports are significant to the health of their business and thus the industry.
Duty free status has resulted in about $40 million per year staying in the floral industry rather than being diverted to federal coffers, a number expected to increase significantly with the recent addition of roses to GSP eligibility list. These are dollars that are used to hire additional staff, promote consumer purchases, and invest in the future of family businesses. However, GSP’s authorization expired on Dec. 31, 2020, and must be renewed if the duty-free status and business certainty it provides for fresh cut flowers and other products is to be reinstated.
Maintain the Minimum Wage
What SAF is Asking: Congress should maintain the minimum wage. This is not the right time for a federal increase, as it will only stunt the recovery of the floriculture industry.
Background: The recently introduced Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase the federal minimum wage to $15.00 per hour over 5 years and provides for further increases in subsequent years. Congress should not saddle small business owners with this significant cost increase, especially not now at a time when small businesses are confronted with the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, with 25 percent of small business owners reporting that they will have to close their doors if current economic conditions do not improve.
Importance to the Industry: Businesses in the floriculture industry have very narrow profit margins and cannot absorb increased labor costs. Floral industry businesses often pay in excess of the minimum wage to attract and retain valuable employees. An increase in the federal minimum wage would create an upward pressure on those already-higher wages and may prove to be unsustainable. Floral business owners know that more than doubling the federal minimum wage will require many to reduce their labor force, cut business investments and, for some, cause them to close their doors.
Ag Labor and Immigration: Preserve Agriculture’s Workforce
What SAF is Asking: Congress must take action to pass legislation that preserves agriculture’s experienced workforce and provides for agriculture’s future needs with a flexible, market-based agricultural worker visa program that allows access to a legal and reliable workforce moving forward.
Importance to the Industry: The devastating labor shortage is impacting flower growing operations today and jeopardizes the future success of the floriculture sector and the vitality of rural economies, which rely upon agriculture as a primary economic driver. Small- and medium-sized growers are at a critical juncture caused by the margin between profitability and loss due to the labor-intensive nature of this sector and misguided federal policy on agricultural labor. The impact goes far beyond the farm gate, as each on-farm employee supports two to three other jobs up and down the food and agriculture supply chain.
The Society of American Florists is the only national trade association that represents all segments of the U.S. floral industry. SAF provides government advocacy, education and marketing advice; and connects industry members who want to learn, share ideas and grow; helps the industry recruit and retain talent; and provides guidance to the industry to prepare for and navigate the future. The association was chartered by an act of Congress in 1884. To learn more about SAF or to join, visit safnow.org.