Producers have until Aug. 28 to sign up for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, 28 agricultural groups are asking for USDA to extend that deadline and to announce the second tranche of payments and evaluate additional eligibility.
As of Aug. 3, 2020, USDA has paid out $6.8 billion to nearly 500,000 applicants. Cattle producers have received the bulk of the funds, at $2.98 billion, followed by milk at $1.3 billion, corn at $1.2 billion and hogs at $430 million. (Click here for the latest breakdown.)
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $9.5 billion in funding to support those affected by the market fallout, along with additional funds already left in the Commodity Credit Corp. to offer nearly $16 billion total to help direct to producers who needed it most.
The letter states, however, that the current deadline “may exclude eligible producers from participating in the program, including producers of commodities that were recently added to the list of eligible commodities and commodities that are likely to become eligible through the NOFA [notice of funding availability] process.”
Along with extending the deadline, the letter strongly encourages USDA to “increase producer and stakeholder engagement initiatives. While the department has done a commendable job in reaching out to all affected parties, communication and outreach by FSA [Farm Service Administration] staff has likely been significantly impacted by the lack of face-to-face interactions; in addition, many producers eligible for CFAP have had limited or no previous interaction with FSA staff.”
The 499,156 applications received represent only 24% of all farm operations. Producers of several commodities have seen extremely low participation rates, including carrots at 1%, oranges at 2%, tomatoes at 6% and apples at 10%. Those numbers may indicate many farmers are not aware they qualify for CFAP assistance. The 22,224 dairy applications received represent approximately 65% of licensed dairy operations. “The disparity between approved applications and the number of farm operations points toward the need for additional farmer and stakeholder engagement and a signup deadline extension,” the letter added.
The letter also asks USDA to re-evaluate the payment limit structure. “We continue to believe that the limits are too restrictive and disproportionately impact specialty crops, dairy, hogs and cattle producers,” the letter stated. “The payment limit structure should be reconsidered with respect to the scale of these operations, especially as USDA contemplates a path forward for utilizing the $14 billion replenishment that Congress provided for the Commodity Credit Corp. and well as any funds not distributed through the first and second tranche of CFAP payments.”
USDA’s CFAP cost/benefit analysis estimated the initial tranche of CFAP payments at $15.4 billion. Commodities lagging significantly in CFAP support include hogs and pigs at 20%, upland cotton at 49%, dairy at 47%, soybeans at 51%, both wheat classes at less than 60%, corn at 66% and cattle at 69%. At $270 million, specialty crop payments represent only 12% of the estimated CFAP payments, the letter noted.
American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said, “The fact that there is still money available should not lead anyone to believe that the needs of America’s farmers have all been met. Farmers and ranchers are still struggling to make ends meet, and the pandemic is far from over. We need to increase awareness, and that means USDA turning it up a notch, along with ag groups. We’re certainly working to ensure those eligible know the aid is available.”