A massive economic stimulus bill that congressional leaders were rushing to finish Tuesday could allow the Agriculture Department to provide multiple forms of aid to different sectors hit by the coronavirus epidemic as well as a fresh round of Market Facilitation Program payments, a key senator says.
Sen. John Hoeven, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, has been working to ensure that the bill will replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority and temporarily raise the borrowing limit to $50 billion, the amount the department estimates that it will need to fund MFP and cover other needs, he said.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse Tuesday afternoon, the North Dakota Republican said that all commodity groups are now behind the CCC funding increase and that he had been working to address concerns raised by the top Senate Ag Committee's Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. She has argued that the previous versions of MFP were unfairly skewed toward southern crops and provided no aid for her states’ producers of tart cherries.
“All the different ag sectors will be eligible” for assistance through the CCC provisions, Hoeven said.
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As for timing of the assistance, Hoeven indicated that USDA may move more quickly on providing aid to cattle producers and compensation for coronavirus impacts than it does on a new round of MFP, given that the department doesn’t want to distort planting decisions by promising more MFP payments too soon.
Among the sectors that could be aided by the CCC account is the fresh produce industry. The United Fresh Produce Association is seeking $5 billion to reimburse distributors for produce that was intended for restaurants and food service and couldn’t be diverted to supermarkets.
“We’ve tried to respond to any and all issues that have come up and (we) have all of ag behind us,” Hoeven said.
Hoeven also said he expected the stimulus package to include a 90-day extension on marketing loan repayment. USDA requested the extension as part of an emergency funding request released last week. Cotton producers are among those who expect to use the extension.
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