Farm groups are eagerly awaiting the release any day of USDA’s requirements for $16 billion in direct payments to compensate producers for the market losses caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The White House Office of Management and Budget on Friday completed its interagency review of the rule for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which is expected to include limits on individual payments. The end of the OMB review means the rule could be made public at any time.
President Donald Trump is scheduled on Tuesday to speak on "supporting farmers, ranchers and the food supply chain," according to the White House. No other details were released. On Monday, he'll host a meeting with restaurant industry leaders.
USDA was originally expected to cap the payments to individual farmers at $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 for all commodities. However, groups representing cattle and hog producers and fruit and vegetable growers have been lobbying to get the limits raised or eliminated, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated recently that the caps would be higher than originally planned.
USDA held a webinar for farmers last week to encourage them to begin work on their applications.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill this week, a light hearing schedule will be highlighted by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s appearance Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
EPA handling of biofuel policy is always a major topic of the hearing, especially for the panel’s Midwest senators.
Wheeler’s appearance this week comes at a time when gasoline demand has been crushed because of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, depressing demand for ethanol and sparking appeals to EPA from oil-state governors and attorneys general to lower biofuel usage requirements this year.
"Congress intended the renewable fuels program to be transformative, not destructive,” seven attorneys general said in a letter on Friday. “If the program threatens the very economies it intends to modify, the Administrator is empowered to take necessary steps to protect the regulated markets by waiving the program’s requirements.”
Biofuel industry leaders say that the industry can still meet the 2020 targets even though only 56 of the nation's 204 ethanol plants were running at full capacity last week.
EPA on Wednesday sent its proposed 2021 usage mandates to the White House Office of Management and Budget for interagency review.
Even as USDA prepares to send out the first CFAP payments, Congress is debating a second round, but it’s likely to be June or July at least before another major coronavirus relief bill passes.
Friday night, the Democratic-controlled House passed by 208-199 a $3 trillion stimulus package called the HEROES act that would authorize $16.5 billion in additional CFAP payments. The bill includes many additional agriculture provisions that farm groups hope to see eventually enacted.
The bill has no chance of passing the Senate, because of an array of much costlier provisions that Republicans and the White House oppose. Senate Republicans acknowledge that another stimulus package is likely to be needed but they say that they want to see how previous aid bills are working, no bill will be enacted before June or July.
Farm groups also are likely to seek more money than the House bill would provide.
Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, noted that the USDA had earlier asked Congress to raise its Commodity Credit Corp. spending limit to $50 billion, from the current $30 billion, and a bipartisan group of House members has sought to raise the cap to $68 billion. The House bill wouldn’t raise the limit.
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"Out of a $3 trillion monstrosity that provides funding for every last idea on their socialist wish list, House Democrats could not find the money to meet either request for agriculture,” Conaway said of the HEROES Act. “A bipartisan process would have allowed for a collaborative discussion, but unfortunately there was no process at all.”
But Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, welcomed passage of the House bill.
“The HEROES Act would do a great deal to alleviate these pressures. Of particular importance is an additional $16.5 billion in direct support to affected farmers, which should help prevent the closure of thousands of family-owned operations,” he said.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, May 18
4 p.m. USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 19
Wednesday, May 20
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, 106 Dirksen.
10:15 a.m. — House Education and Labor subcommittee hearing on the federal government’s actions to protect workers from COVID-19. 2175 Rayburn.
11 a.m. — Heritage Foundation webinar, “A Strategic Blueprint: U.S.-China Relations.”
Thursday, May 21
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases the Weekly Export Sales report.
Friday, May 22
9 a.m. — USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.
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