The White House is asking Congress for $45.8 billion to cover the rising cost to the Agriculture Department and other departments and agencies of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The administration also is seeking new legal authority from Congress, including authority for USDA’s Farm Service Agency to extend the repayment period for marketing assistance loans. The requested funding includes $161 million earmarked for USDA, much of it needed to make up for an expected reduction in user fees.

The request is separate from the proposed economic stimulus package now being developed in the Senate. 

“The unprecedented mobilization the administration has achieved has forced agencies to incur unanticipated costs. These costs must be met with a legislative response to ensure full operational capacity,” according to a 118-page letter detailing the request. 

The largest request for USDA is for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which needs $55 million to make up for a loss of user fees due to the slowdown in air traffic, according to the letter. 

Also to make up for reduced user fees, the Agricultural Marketing Service would get $45 million to cover salary costs associated with commodity grading, inspection, and audits.

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The Food Safety and Inspection Service needs $33 million, according to the request, to cover the cost of supporting temporary and intermittent workers, temptation relocations of inspectors and inspector overtime. The meat industry is concerned that the loss of FSIS inspectors to illness could force plants to shut down. Packing plants can’t operate without FSIS inspectors on site. 

In addition to the authority to extend the marketing loan repayment period, FSA also needs $3 million to cover staff costs associated with an increased volume of loan servicing and new applications, the letter says. 

USDA’s rural development program would get $7 million to provide loans totaling as much as $2.5 billion because of the outbreak’s impact. USDA also wants authority to forgive principal and interest for 120 days on loans made under the Business and Industry program and the Rural Energy for America Program. 

The White House is requesting $4 million for the Foreign Agricultural Service to cover the cost of bringing 110 FAS officers and their 300 to 350 dependents back from overseas and to house them in temporary quarters for three months. 

The Forest Service would get $14 million to cover the cost of disinfecting and cleaning agency work spaces. 

USDA also is asking for new legal authority to use 3% of the funding for programs associated with the outbreak to cover program administrative expenses. Another provision USDA wants would trigger a 20% set-aside for loans and grants to help the health care industry deal with the outbreak. The set-aside would apply to telemedicine grants, community facility loans, REAP loans and Business and Industry loans. 

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