As state and federal governments order businesses closed and simultaneously ease regulations to combat the COVID-19 virus, the food and grocery industry is asking the federal government to ease business restrictions to help get more products into stores, according to an email from the CT Food Association.
The twelve requests include an executive order temporarily waiving truck weight restrictions, suspending delivery time restrictions, allowing military members with commercial driver licenses to drive food delivery trucks and temporarily lifting child labor laws to allow teenagers out of school to work in support of the emergency efforts.
According to the email sent by the Connecticut Food Association, the requests were shared with the Food Industry Association, the National Governors Association “and other relevant stakeholders with White House staff and all the Department Heads of the Federal Government.”
The request to loosen restrictions come as runs on items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer have left store shelves empty, as shoppers prepare to hunker down during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Wayne Pesce, president of the CT Food Association, which represents 240 grocery and pharmacy companies in Connecticut, says their first priority is ensuring the safety of their members and the public but that certain exemptions to both federal and state law “need to be consistent for the people and processes that are necessary to public health.”
Part of those processes are actually getting goods into the stores for people to purchase.
“While many Connecticut residents have seen empty shelves of high-demand products, much of the stock issues have been due to an unprecedented amount of overbuying,” Pesce said. “The manufacture of these essential goods do not have a supply shortage right now; they have plenty of essential goods ready to deploy.”
Joseph Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut says that both the state and federal government have waived hours of service rules, meaning truckers can driver for longer periods of time.
However, Sculley says Connecticut has a shortage of truck drivers made worse by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the shut down of many government operations, particularly the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I think we already had a shortage of truckers to begin with, and this crisis has exacerbated it,” Sculley said.
The Connecticut DMV closed its offices starting on March 17 and has suspended all on-road testing for both passenger and commercial vehicles. Sculley says he has been working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to get CDL applicants in Connecticut tested and on the road.
We need to figure out a way to get these CDL applicants tested if they’re going to working for a company responding to the emergency.Joseph Sculley, President of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut
“We need to figure out a way to get these CDL applicants tested if they’re going be working for a company responding to the emergency,” Sculley said. “I think we’re going to find a way to get something done.”
The outbreak is causing many governors and the federal government to temporarily waive and rethink previous regulations and restrictions to ensure quick access to goods and services during increased demand.
Food Industry Association President Leslie Sarasin said their organization is working closely with the Trump Administration to ensure grocery stores stay open and stocked.
“We want to ensure that all Americans know the government is working closely with all stakeholders across the food and consumer products supply chain to ensure that stores can stay open and stocked with the products consumers need through this emergency,” Sarasin said. “We are resilient; our industry is working 24-hours-a-day to replenish and restock while ensuring the cleanliness of our stores and facilities.”
The policy proposals submitted by the food and grocery industry also include loosening restriction on pharmacies to allow them to offer “mail, home or curbside delivery services,” for certain medications.
But grocery workers have to maintain a level of safety as well and the associations are asking the government to make personal protection equipment available for store personnel who have direct contact with the public, so they feel “protected and confident coming to work and keeping the food supply chain available.”
In countries like Italy grocery stores remain in operation but entry to those stores is highly regimented. Even though the population is largely confined to quarantine, Italians are allowed to leave their homes to shop for food.
Some store chains like Stop & Shop have designated particular hours for senior citizens – who are most vulnerable to the virus. Some experts are unsure whether or not having exclusive hours for the elderly will prevent or exacerbate the spread of the virus.
A number of grocery chains offer at-home delivery services, although not in all market areas, and the proliferation of online apps allow people to shop from home and have groceries and food delivered.
Both at the state and federal level, lawmakers are scrambling to keep try to keep the national economy afloat, prevent the spread of the virus and ensure that goods and food are available to the public.
“We are committed to working with all of our state agencies on behalf of the tens of thousands of Connecticut consumers who shop in our stores weekly,” Pesce said.