The latest round of coronavirus aid for farmers provides specific guidelines on how an additional $13 billion in new funds can offer direct support for farmers and ranchers as well as an increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Both chambers are expected to debate and vote on the package Monday.
Unlike the original $16 billion offered earlier this spring that allowed the secretary of agriculture to determine which agricultural sectors needed aid, the latest relief package specified $5 billion for row crop producers, $225 million for specialty crops and up to $3 billion for livestock producers forced to euthanize animals due to the COVID crisis, according to a bill summary from Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who has advocated for more strings attached to USDA’s purse.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a hunger crisis that has touched every part of our nation. As many as 50 million Americans are not able to feed themselves and their families. After many months of pushing for a critical SNAP increase and other funding to address the hunger crisis in our country, I am very pleased that we finally reached a bipartisan agreement that will help both families and farmers in need. Farmers will receive the support they need to keep their farms and businesses going. I am relieved that help is on the way and I look forward to continuing to do more in the New Year to help Americans through this continuing crisis,” says Stabenow.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., says he was glad to see the inclusion of important support for those left out of earlier assistance, including contract livestock and poultry growers, ethanol producers that saw a drop in demand, and livestock and poultry producers who had to depopulate herds and flocks as a result of supply chain disruptions.
“The effects of this pandemic are still being seen all along the food supply chain,” Peterson says. “Folks are still struggling to get enough to eat, and farmers are still reeling from disruptions to the marketplace. This bill isn’t perfect, but it reflects a compromise and goes a long way toward getting us through this hard time and back to normal. I urge my colleagues to support it.”
The final text specifies an estimated $5 billion for supplemental $20 per acre payments to all row crop producers. The bill shall make additional payments to supplement the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payment to more closely align with the calculated gross payment or revenue loss; may provide support to processors for crop losses due to insufficient processing access; and may extend the term of a marketing assistance loan.
It also specifies the agricultural secretary “may make payments to producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel, or renewable fuels with market losses due to COVID-19.”
Beyond row crop farms
And it provides an estimated $225 million for supplemental payments to producers of specialty crops if they lost their crop in 2019. The bill provides $100 million in additional funding to support specialty crop farmers and address COVID-19 specialty crop supply chain issues at the state level via the farm bill’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
Another major component in summer negotiations on future aid packages looked for some way to provide supplemental payments to livestock producers forced to euthanize their animals. The final agreement provides up to $3 billion for supplemental payments to cattle producers, contract growers of livestock and poultry, dairy farmers and producers who were forced to euthanize livestock or poultry due to COVID crisis.
U.S. hog farmers are facing $5 billion in collective pandemic-related losses this year following two challenging years due to trade retaliation, the National Pork Producers Council claims.
The bill also provides specific support for food supply chain workers and supporting food purchases. The bill includes no less than $1.5 billion to fund purchases of food for distribution to those in need, and to provide worker protection measures, and retooling support for farmers, farmers markets, and food processors to respond to COVID-19. This also includes a mandatory review of USDA food purchasing and distribution, another sticking point following USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program criticism of not being able to adequately meet those who needed it most.
The bill also supports dairy product donations by providing $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program, modeled after the 2018 Farm Bill pilot milk donation program, to facilitate the donation of dairy products and minimize food waste.
Congress also targeted $60 million in grants to small meat and poultry processors to make improvements necessary to expand their markets by meeting federal food safety inspection standards. Grants may be used for modernizing or expanding facilities, modernizing equipment, and implementing other processes to ensure food safety.
It also provides to use no less than $20 million to improve and maintain animal disease prevention and response capacity.
It also supports farmers’ mental health by including $28 million in state block grants to support farmer and rancher stress management due to COVID-19.
Food aid boost
The package also provides a 15% increase in SNAP benefits for 6 months (through June 30, 2021) for all SNAP participants. It targets $5 million to help add additional retailers to online SNAP, including for farmers markets and direct to consumer sales.
Food banks will also receive $400 million through the Emergency Food Assistance Program with up to 20% for distribution of commodities. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program will receive $13 million with up to 20% for State administrative expenses.
Schools and daycares that are facing increased costs and reduced participation due to COVID also receive emergency funds. Because funding for schools and daycares are tied directly to participation, many are facing budget shortfalls, putting in jeopardy their ability to continue to offer meals to children. The bill would provide funding to ensure these critical feeding programs may continue.