More than 30 Republican and Democratic House members are proposing to include an additional $50 billion in aid to farmers in the next COVID-19 economic relief bill.
The money would supplement the $23.5 billion in farm aid that was authorized by the $2 trillion CARES Act enacted in late March.
Legislative language introduced by the House members, many of whom are members of the House Agriculture Committee, would also prevent the Agriculture Department from imposing limits on individual payments to farmers. Sources told Agri-Pulse there didn't appear to be a similar effort underway in the Senate.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has only exacerbated challenges farmers and producers faced from the harmful effects of the trade war and devastating weather and has sent futures prices tumbling,” said Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa. “It is more important than ever to ensure food security by providing our producers the resources they need.”
USDA is tapping $9.5 billion from the CARES Act to make $16 billion in direct payments that are expected to be distributed to farmers in May. An additional $14 billion, which was earmarked for replenishing USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. account, will be available to the department to send in July.
According to information released by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., USDA plans to cap the direct payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that a farmer can receive at $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 for all commodities.
Farm groups and their allies in the House and Senate are appealing to USDA to eliminate any caps on the payments.
The payment caps “would severely restrict the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches across the nation,” according to a letter signed by 28 senators to President Donald Trump. “We strongly urge you to eliminate payment limits for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers before the final CFAP program details are announced.”
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Brooke Appleton, vice president of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association, said there is an ongoing debate about whether farm groups should seek more CCC authority for USDA or authorize direct spending, which is what the $50 billion House proposal would do.
Another outstanding issue is whether farm groups and lawmakers can coalesce around aid for the ethanol industry.
Additionally, Democrats are pushing to provide a temporary 15% across-the-board increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
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