More than 140 members of Congress are calling on the Department of Agriculture to offer “swift assistance for cattle producers” with some of the $9.5 billion authorized to assist farmers and ranchers hit by the effects of the coronavirus.

In a bipartisan letter, more than 40 members of the Senate and 100 members of the House acknowledge they do not currently know “ the full market impact” for various commodities but say “there is an immediate need for assistance for our cattle producers.”

“We request that USDA consider data and estimates available from the Office of the Chief Economist and implement a program that would directly respond to the negative effect on producers caused by COVID-19,” the letter says. “This program should deliver targeted, temporary equitable relief to cattle producers in a manner that limits market distortions and negative effects on price discovery.”

The recently passed coronavirus recovery bill included $14 billion to replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp., the fund used to issue Market Facilitation Program payments the last two years – and another $9.5 billion to issue emergency relief for livestock producers and specialty crop growers. 

The letter was led by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., in the Senate and Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, in the House. 

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In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Johnson said the support needs to find its way to producer portion of the beef value chain.

“We don’t want to make the situation worse,” Johnson said. “Right now, very little of the value of the beef being sold in stores is getting back to the cow-calf producer and the feeder, and we don’t want whatever USDA does to exacerbate that problem.”

It remains unknown at this time how that $9.5 billion fund will be shared among the various industries claiming economic injury due to the COVID-19 outbreak. A separate letter from a dozen groups calls for "financial relief, especially direct assistance" for producers that sell directly to local and regional markets "that is commensurate with their expected losses of over $1 billion." 

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