The American Farm Bureau Federation on Wednesday sent the Senate a wish list for the next coronavirus relief bill that includes a significant new round of aid to farmers as well as assistance for rural broadband and health care providers. 

The group also calls on Congress to provide farms and other businesses protection from pandemic-related lawsuits. Business liability protection is a priority issue for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The Senate is not expected to take up the next aid bill until July. 

In a 4 1/2-page letter to McConnell, Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, AFBF President Zippy Duvall (shown above) said the “economic losses across the U.S. agriculture sector are broad‐based, directly impacting farmers and ranchers and their supply chain partners – from input providers to end users. 

"Producers have witnessed their markets shrink overnight or even disappear, while supply chains have been stretched to the limit in response to the pandemic. “

The list of requests includes a previous proposal by AFBF to increase USDA’s spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corp. to $68 billion, up from the current limit of $30 billion. 

The group seeks some measures included in the $3 trillion, House-passed HEROES Act, including direct payments for losses after April 15 as well as assistance for biofuel producers. The letter also proposes providing aid to independent and contract poultry producers, who are not eligible for the $16 billion in Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments currently being distributed by USDA. 

The letter calls for opening acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for emergency haying and grazing, which would help producers who have had to keep livestock on grass longer than normal because of slowdowns in meat processing plants, the group says. 

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The proposals include several recommendations for easing rules in the Paycheck Protection Program’s forgivable loans, including allowing farms to get funding for H-2A workers. Farmers also should be eligible for PPP loans even if they show Schedule F losses in farm income, the letter says. 

In addition, Farm Credit institutions should be eligible for the programs’s set-aside for small financial lenders, according to AFBF.

To help offset farm labor costs, AFBF seeks funding to offset the cost of accommodating social distancing needs in H-2A housing and to obtain personal protective equipment for employees. 

On the issue of business liability protections, the letter says they would shield "farmers and ranchers, who are doing their best to protect their workforce during this crisis, from unjustified litigation that cripples our industry’s ability to provide essential food, fuel and fiber."

Other proposals in the letter: 

  • Waive overtime fees for federal meat inspectors in small and medium-sized packing plants.
  • Provide an additional round of funding for community health centers. 
  • Accelerate funding for the implementation of the Broadband DATA Act, which is intended to improve the accuracy of internet service maps, which are used to determine where there are gaps in service. AFBF also says “distressed communities” should be made eligible to get Economic Development Administration grants for broadband expansion.

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