The White House Office of Management and Budget on Friday completed its review of USDA’s plans to provide farmers with $16 billion in direct payments. That means USDA could announce signup for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program any day.
Take note: President Donald Trump is due to deliver remarks on Tuesday about "supporting farmers, ranchers and the food supply chain," according to the White House schedule. No other details have been released.
Today, he'll host a meeting with restaurant industry leaders.
For more on what’s in store in the coming days, read our Washington Week Ahead.
House takes major step to next stimulus
The focus now turns to the Senate after the Democratic-controlled House passed its $3 trillion HEROES Act Friday night. Republicans are deriding the bill as a “socialist wish list,” but the bill outlines priorities that Democrats will press to include in whatever legislation eventually goes to the president.
The House bill, which passed 208-199, contains an array of ag provisions, including authorization of $16.5 billion in additional CFAP payments.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas
Take note: A senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Jerry Moran of Kansas, tells Agri-Pulse that the House bill’s ag provisions are a “good place to start” and reflect the influence of House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and other Democrats from farm districts. “It includes many of the things that agricultural producers across the country are looking for,” he said.
The bill does not increase USDA’s spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corp. The American Farm Bureau Federation is asking Congress to raise the current $30 billion limit to $68 billion, but Moran said he thinks a compromise can be found with the House that increases the limit with some restrictions on how the money is spent.
"I am always of the view, particularly as an appropriator, that I want something to say about how money is spent,” he said.
Watch the full interview with Moran in Agri-Pulse’s Washington Week in Review.
Senate Dems push for answers on testing, safety measures at meat plants
Senate Democrats are worried that President Trump’s recent executive order on meatpacking “has put pressure on plants to reopen and that USDA is not taking sufficient measures to ensure the plants are operating consistent with federal safety guidance.”
In a letter led by Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, 29 senators said Friday the plants should not only follow CDC and OSHA guidance for social distancing and personal protective equipment, but should also have “comprehensive testing,” something not mandated by the federal guidance.
They asked Perdue what he and others in the government are doing “to help food supply chain employers access much-needed COVID-19 testing capacity? How many tests has the federal government obtained for the plants, if any?”
USDA has said it is working with companies, the CDC, HHS, and state and local authorities “to provide the resources needed, including testing capacity and technical support, to resume or maintain operations.”
Cases still spreading: While many meat and poultry plants have reopened, some only with limited production, others are being hit with a surge in cases. In the Amarillo, Texas, area, Gov. Greg Abbott reported 700 new cases, the result of targeted testing at meatpacking facilities.
JBS, which had initially rejected offers of testing by the state, says it is now coordinating with local and state officials regarding testing at its Cactus facility; testing of employees will take place next week.
The numbers: As of May 12, the senators said over 3,200 meat processing plant employees have been directly impacted by COVID-19, and at least 35 have died. More than 190 USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service employees have also contracted the virus, and four have died from it.
Biodiesel producers back clean fuel infrastructure Senate bill
Biofuel producers are praising a bipartisan clean fuel infrastructure bill that would improve and expand the existing alternative fuel vehicle refueling property investment tax credit.
“Continued development of infrastructure will help our industry bring better, cleaner fuels to consumers and achieve our vision for substantial growth,” the National Biodiesel Board's Kurt Kovarik told Agri-Pulse.
The bill was introduced by the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Tom Carper of Delaware, and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The bill would extend the tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year, through 2028 and raise the credit’s cap from $30,000 to $200,000.
U.S. takes step to investigate unfair raspberry imports complaint
Complaints that imported raspberries are hurting U.S. farmers have spurred the U.S. Trade Representative into action. Citing complaints from the Washington State Red Raspberry Commission of “unfair practices,” the USTR is asking the U.S. International Trade Commission to carry out a fact-finding mission on the domestic impacts, something the ITC says it will get the job done by June 9.
Focusing on activity from 2015 through 2019, the ITC is being tasked with investigating foreign government policies that impact raspberry exports to the U.S.
Canada is the only foreign government named in the USTR mandate. U.S. farmers are raising concerns over pesticide and labeling violations.
Biofuels industry casts gaze toward Senate for relief
The attention of renewable fuels advocates now turns to the Senate following the House’s approval on Friday of a COVID relief bill that includes aid for biofuel producers.
Under the bill, biofuel plants could get 45 cents per gallon for fuel produced from Jan. 1 to May 1. Plants unable to produce for a month or more could get the 45 cents on half of their production for the same period in 2019.
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said he sees strong bipartisan support in the Senate to provide biofuel producers direct relief, but also noted rigid enforcement of the Renewable Fuel Standard will help.
“The RFS becomes incredibly important at a time like this because it keeps a demand floor under the industry and really provides some certainty in an otherwise really uncertain time,” Cooper said.
He said it: “It’s a parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, commenting on the House HEROES Act.
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