President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a $2 trillion economic stimulus package that includes $23.5 billion in aid to farmers and ranchers as well as marketing loan relief.
"We got hit by the invisible enemy and we got hit hard," Trump said before signing the 883-page bill just three hours after it cleared the House on a voice vote. Trump was flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and other cabinet members during the Oval Office ceremony,
The bill, known as the Phase 3 coronavirus response bill, includes $14 billion to replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority and $9.5 billion for livestock and specialty producers and local food systems.
USDA used the CCC account to make the 2018 and 2019 MFP payments, and farm groups have been lobbying the administration for another round for this year.
“Congress’s forceful, bipartisan action to take unprecedented steps to combat the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis is a balm to dairy producers who have endured brutal weeks and may do so in the weeks ahead," said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. Dairy producers would be eligible under the bill for a portion of the $9.5 billion account.
Perdue said, “The passage of the Coronavirus response legislation will provide much needed relief to Americans across this country, especially workers and small-business owners who have been impacted by COVID-19."
The bill also extends marketing assistance loans for three months to a full year. The loans provide producers with interim financing so they don't have to market crops during periods when prices are relatively low.
The legislation includes other measures that will benefit farmers, agricultural employers and the economy more broadly.
Most Americans will be eligible for direct payments worth $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. The amounts are phased down after $75,000 in adjusted gross income for an individual and $150,000 for a couple. The payments are reduced by $5 for every $100 in income over those limits.
The bill also increases unemployment insurance benefits and makes small businesses eligible for forgivable loans to cover payroll costs.
Left out of the bill was a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments that Democrats wanted, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that would be a priority for Democrats in writing the Phase 4 bill.
The Phase 3 bill does provide $15.5 billion to cover the cost of increased SNAP enrollment, plus $450 million to cover the cost of procuring and distributing commodities through food banks.
Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, called on USDA to "act without delay" in implementing the farm and nutrition provisions.
The legislation passed the Senate, 96-0, on Wednesday, and there was never any doubt about the outcome in the House, but the final hours were not without some drama.
Despite being called out by Trump on Twitter earlier in the day, Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie tried to slow down the bill's passage Friday afternoon by claiming that a quorum was not present. But Maryland Democrat Anthony Brown, who was presiding over the House at the time, overruled his objection and the bill ultimately passed without a roll call being necessary.
Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said the bill included “critical help for our farm and ranch families, who are officially recognized by the U.S. government as critical infrastructure and must keep working in order to keep our grocery shelves stocked.
“Our farm and ranch families are living up to this charge and getting it done even under the enormous financial strain of seven straight years of economic recession in agriculture.”
The Agricultural Retailers Association was among the many groups welcoming passage of the legislation. “Ag retailers and their farmer customers, as always, are committed to continuing their businesses so that they can deliver the safe, healthy, and abundant food supply that is in demand now and required for the future,” said ARA President and CEO Daren Coppock.
Updated at 4:35 p.m. with president's signature.
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