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Economic stimulus bill close to passage by lawmakers

By: Jake Putnam
Published in Blog on  March 25, 2020

WASHINGTON—The US Senate has agreed to a $2 trillion economic rescue package that will flood the economy with new cash, to fight the fiscal impacts of the flu pandemic. The House will take up the legislative package today.

“We urge swift passage and will continue working with Congress and the Administration to ensure there are sufficient resources to assist farmers, ranchers, rural communities and those in need in these very trying times,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall.

The package is expected to fund farms and  businesses harmed by the flu shut-downs and is expected to give US Agriculture a badly needed shot in the arm.

“America’s farmers and ranchers face enormous volatility as markets and supply chains rapidly react to changes, but I’ll say again that farmers and ranchers will not let Americans down. All members of Congress must understand that farmers have almost no control over the prices of the goods we produce, so fulfilling our commitment to America requires a team effort," said Duvall.

The earmarked spending clears the way for USDA to make additional Market Facilitation Program payments this year. 

The legislation also provides $14 billion to replenish the Commodity Credit Corp. account, that’ll be capped annually at $30 billion, as well as $9.5 billion more for livestock and specialty crops, like fruit, vegetables, and nuts. 

Idaho and the nation’s dairy producers will have access to more than $9.5 billion, cash that’s earmarked specifically for producers harmed by the pandemic. 

USDA used the CCC account to make the 2018 and 2019 MFP payments and will make another round of payments for 2020. US Ranchers had lobbied for direct payments to offset the drop in live cattle prices since January they'll get the funding they need under this legislation. 

The fruit and vegetable producers successfully asked for up to $5 billion to pay distributors and growers for the loss of produce that couldn’t  be shifted from restaurants to retail outlets with the pandemic. 

The legislation also extends marketing assistance loans by at least three more months, from nine months. The loans provide producers with short term financing so they don't have to market crops when prices are too low. 

Other key elements of the bill will pump $15.5 billion into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And at least $450 million into The Emergency Food Assistance Program. And at least $100 million for additional rural broadband grants through USDA's ReConnect program.

The stimulus package will pay out $1,200 per person to lower-income and middle-income Americans, and the package will also expand unemployment insurance benefits with billions in aid to small businesses. 

Background:

  • COVID-19 impact on agriculture includes a rapid and unanticipated decline in commodity prices, the likely closure of ethanol plants, the dramatic decline in full-service restaurant and school meal demand, and the reduction in direct-to-consumer sales.
  • The agreement reportedly includes a $14 billion increase in USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation, consistent with a long history of the CCC being tapped to responsibly support agriculture in times of crisis, and $9.5 billion to assist specialty crop producers, direct retail farmers, and livestock operators.
  • Forty-eight agriculture groups joined Farm Bureau in calling on Congress to expand USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation. Read the letter here.


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