A fresh round of COVID-19 relief should be available to small businesses and farms very soon. The House is set today to clear legislation that will add $321 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, which has been out of money for a week. 

The legislation also will make farms eligible for $10,000 advances through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. The advances don’t have to be repaid. 

By the way: The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is appealing to SBA to make clear to lenders that electric co-ops qualify for PPP loans. According to NRECA, some co-ops have been turned away though they easily meet the SBA qualifications. 

SNAP frustration: It’s not clear when Congress will take up the next COVID-19 relief bill. But some Democrats and anti-hunger advocates are angry this latest measure didn’t include a 15% across-the-board increase in SNAP benefits. 

“Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump ought to be ashamed. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from – but they don’t think other families should be afforded the same right,” said House Agriculture Committee member Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

A bill Congress passed in March authorized emergency increases in benefits for SNAP recipients who don’t qualify for the monthly maximum. Those increases are totally about $2 billion a month, according to USDA. 

House Ag member Filemon Vela heads back to DC. (Twitter)

OSHA, CDC writing worker protections

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention are preparing guidance for protecting meatpacking workers from COVID-19. Outbreaks have been shutting down numerous meatpackers in the U.S. and in Canada. 

John Dillard, an attorney at OFW Law, said on a webinar Wednesday that new OSHA guidance should be out “any day.” The CDC tells Agri-Pulse it is refining its “existing guidance to protect plant workers, decontaminate the facilities and return them to safe operation.”

Democratic senators sent a letter Monday to Vice President Mike Pence, USDA, FDA, the Department of Homeland Security and EPA asking how they are coordinating with OSHA “to ensure that employers know what is necessary to protect their essential food supply chain workers from COVID-19.” 

China snapping up cheap US soybeans

The USDA announced Wednesday sales of 198,000 metric tons of U.S. old crop soybeans to China, but there are expected to be more purchases as Chinese importers take advantage of low prices.

Chinese buyers may be in the market for as much as 500,000 tons now with delivery in July, says John Baize, an analyst with the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

“It’s a good time to buy,” Baize tells Agri-Pulse. “The price out of the (Pacific Northwest) is $352.75 per ton … making those soybeans very competitive right now. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them making quite a few purchases in May.”

Baize noted the possibility that China is restocking its emergency reserves, which the country has drawn down.

China turning to beef on low pork supplies

China is going to start consuming more beef, and that will mean stronger demand for U.S. product, which now has much better access to the market after the Chinese government lifted trade restrictions this year.

China has had some success in rebuilding its swine herds after the African swine fever wiped out about half of the country’s pigs. But pork supplies are still tight and prices are still high, despite ramping up imports, according to a new analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

“Although many traditional Chinese dishes cannot substitute beef for pork, thinly sliced beef for hotpot will likely realize high growth in 2020,” FAS noted in the report.  

FAS is now expecting China to import 2.5 million metric tons of beef this year, up from 2.2 million in 2019.

USDA accused of using wet markets for research

A farm-state senator claims USDA’s Agricultural Research Service spent $650,000 a year on a project that included buying kitten and puppy parts at Chinese slaughterhouses and wet markets.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa gave ARS her monthly Squeal Award, which goes to government agencies who misuse taxpayer funds.

A USDA spokesperson denied to Agri-Pulse that USDA had bought live animals from a wet market and said the department’s last purchase of feline specimens from China was in 2006 in the Guangdong province. The department told the Washington Examiner that ARS did purchase cat parts that had been slaughtered for food. 

According to a 2019 press release, ARS used cats for research on toxoplasmosis, a disease considered to be a leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the U.S. The department announced in April 2019 it stopped using cats in the research.

Does CCC need updating? 

Farmers and policymakers have become a lot more familiar over the last couple of years with the Commodity Credit Corp., the revolving account that USDA used to make trade mitigation payments and will draw on again for COVID-19 relief. The account’s current spending limit was set at $30 billion way back in 1987. 

According to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the limit should be nearly $68 billion, if the cap were adjusted for inflation. 

Keep in mind: Raising the limit would give an administration a lot more flexibility to make payments to farmers through initiatives like the Market Facilitation Program and COVID-19 relief effort. 

Perdue has just $6 billion left in the account right now to use for the coronavirus payments. Congress has provided $14 billion to replenish the fund, but that won’t be available until July.

USDA seeks feedback on organic analysis

USDA is giving the organic industry and other interested parties 30 days to comment on a new analysis that identifies multiple problems with the original regulatory impact analysis used to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule.

Last month, a federal judge gave USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service 180 days to correct the errors in its original analysis, after concluding that the 10-year effort to produce the OLPP rule and the additional year it took to withdraw the rule “represents the administrative process at its never-ending worst.”

“We’re still reviewing the new analysis,” Organic Trade Association spokesperson Maggie McNeil said. The 2017 rule set standards for production, transportation, and slaughter of organic livestock and poultry, and also addressed outdoor access and space for organic poultry.

He said it. “Small businesses and family farms need assistance immediately and this package ensures we do just that.” – Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y.