National Resources and Guidance
On March 20, the National Conservation Partnership sent a joint message on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Beginning Monday, March 23, USDA service centers will be instituting locked door policies, with no public access to USDA offices. One employee per agency will be permitted in the office (one conservation district employee, one NRCS employee, one FSA employee, etc.) on a rotating schedule. High-risk employees will not be subject to rotation during this full telework plan. We encourage all conservation district and partner offices to follow the protocols outlined by USDA during this time.
Many state open meeting rules have temporarily changed to accommodate teleconference or video conferencing, with signatures only occurring when necessary outside of the service center facility.
Field work where necessary may continue to occur, but with only one employee per vehicle, with social distancing between them and their cooperator strictly observed. There is work to be done, and our field work will continue, but we must adapt to support getting this work done with limited personal contact. It is of the utmost importance that we all do our part to limit the exposure and spread of COVID-19.
Please coordinate with your state conservationist, who serves on the pandemic response committee in your state, for interpretation on specific responses or actions. This situation is rapidly evolving. USDA anticipates program deadlines will likely be extended, but the agency intends to make payments to our nation’s producers and landowners on time. USDA will be making another assessment about this full telework policy on April 3, but changes to plans may occur between now and then. Visit USDA’s COVID-19 website for national updates.
Interim guidance for businesses and employers is also available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In light of the uncertainty that exists, this combination can allow for conservation information and decision making that is best for communities across the country.
One of the strengths of the partnership is locally-led decision making across the country. Although our federal partner by definition has and will continue to provide some national guidance, each conservation district, RC&D council, state conservation agency and state and territory conservation district or employee association will be taking into account their state or local situation.
Although the exact effect on conservation in the next few weeks is yet to be determined, we know that conservation efforts cannot come to a complete halt. We stand together to continue to work as a national partnership on this important issue and provide information when appropriate. We must adapt during this unprecedented time to protect the health and safety of our employees, customers, cooperators and communities by limiting exposure.
On Monday, April 6, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) posted to the Federal Register a rule implementing provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
Under FFCRA, employers that have fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Employees are entitled to take leave related to COVID-19 if unable to work because they are subject to federal, state or local quarantine or isolation orders; have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis; are caring for an individual subject to a quarantine or isolation order; are caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable; or are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Up to two weeks of paid sick leave is available to qualifying employees, although the percentage of pay is dependent on the reason cited for an employee being unable to work.
Under section Section 826.40(c), the DOL rule includes definition of a public employer or public agency, which includes political subdivisions of a state. In most states, conservation districts are political subdivisions of state government, meaning the FFCRA and related Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) provisions regarding temporary paid leave would apply. All covered public agencies must comply with both the EPSLA and the EFMLEA regardless of the number of employees they employ. None of the exclusions or exceptions apply to conservation districts that have employees. The law is effective April 1, 2020 and is set to expire Dec. 31, 2020. The DOL will observe a temporary period of non-enforcement for the first 30 days after the FFCRA takes effect, so long as the employer has acted reasonably and in good faith to comply.
The DOL Wage and Hour Division has additional information, including fact sheets and FAQs on implementing the law, as well as required workplace posters.
NACD continues to assess the needs of conservation districts during this crisis as future federal relief packages are considered. For additional guidance and information, please contact your state agency.
- Michigan ACD COVID-19 Business Resources
- Minnesota BWSR COVID-19 Webpage
- Montana ACD COVID-19 and the Work of Conservation Districts
- New Hampshire ACD COVID-19 Webpage
- Oklahoma ACD COVID-19 Resources
- Oregon ACD COVID-19 Tools
- Pennsylvania ACD COVID-19 Webpage
- South Dakota ACD COVID-19 Information and Actions
- Virginia Association of SWCDs COVID-19 Webpage
- Washington State Conservation Commission COVID-19 Webpage
- Wisconsin Land+Water COVID-19 Updates
How to Help
- Cash donations to the nonprofit of your choice IS THE BEST donation.
- If you have medical supplies or equipment to donate, you may do so through the American Red Cross by filling out the in-kind donations form available on redcross.org.
- Trained medical volunteers can offer their services by registering with a National VOAD member on https://www.nvoad.org.
- One thing people can do to help is to donate blood. Many blood drives have been cancelled, impacting the supply. Blood donation centers have the highest standards of safety and infection control. To find where you can donate blood, visit redcross.org.
- To sell medical supplies or equipment to the federal government, businesses can register through the System for Award Management (SAM) website.