Talks on a coronavirus relief package will heat up this week as Senate Republicans prepare to bring out their proposal this week with an eye toward getting the massive legislation passed ahead of the August recess.
The House, meanwhile, will start debating its 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2021, which begins Oct. 1, and also is set to clear the Senate-passed Great American Outdoors Act, which would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“It’s going to be a very fast three weeks,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told Agri-Pulse. Roberts said his staff was been working closely with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on provisions of the COVID-19 aid bill.
He didn't offer many details about the ag provisions in the next coronavirus relief package, but said there is a “double-digit number” of brand-new ideas for the livestock sector.
Roberts has been working to limit any potential restrictions on USDA's Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority. USDA has used the CCC account to make direct payments to farmers under both the Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
“We have to be very much aware of the policy and the ramifications,” Roberts said. “Policy sounds good in the middle of a crisis ... sooner or later we are going to whip this virus and we just don’t want policy that will be counterproductive.”
In a letter to congressional leaders on July 9, leaders of 21 farm groups called for increasing the CCC limit, now $30 billion, to $50 billion, to provide “direct and temporary assistance to the broader agricultural supply chain beyond the farm gate.”
The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he is working with USDA on allocating the $14 billion in CCC funding already secured in the CARES Act, enacted in March, as well as authorizing more CCC money in this upcoming aid package, and replenishing CCC funds for the next fiscal year.
Hoeven told Agri-Pulse earlier that the aid package will probably provide a total of about $30 billion to $35 billion for farm aid. The HEROES Act passed by the House in May but never considered in the Senate included $33 billion in farm relief, including a new round of CFAP payments as well as new aid to livestock and poultry producers and ethanol plants.
Hoeven said assistance to farmers, livestock sector relief, supply chain relief, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will all be part of the discussions as the coronavirus relief bill gets negotiated. Democrats are pushing for a temporary increase in SNAP benefits as well as funding to help food banks expand their cold storage, and aid to processors to retool facilities, purchase new equipment and develop new product lines.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expects to pass a four-bill minibus this week which includes measures to fund the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We will pass those bills next week,” Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference Thursday. She noted this will put the House on track to fund 96% of the government in July.
She also appealed to McConnell to pass a coronavirus relief package.
The Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, 73-25, in June over the objections of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Sheep Industry Association. The measure would guarantee the fund $900 million each year and also provide $1.9 billion a year over the next five years for maintaining public lands.
The livestock groups argue the bill gives federal agencies “free rein” to spend $360 million per year solely to acquire new private land without oversight from Congress.
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Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, July 20
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, July 21
9 a.m. — House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing, “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus," 2154 Rayburn.
10 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Michael Nemelka to be a deputy U.S. trade representative (investment, labor, environment, Africa, China and the Western Hemisphere), 215 Dirksen.
1:30 p.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, 1300 Longworth.
Wednesday, July 22
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, "Stopping the Spread: Examining the Increased Risk of Zoonotic Disease from Illegal Wildlife Trafficking," 106 Dirksen.
Thursday, July 23
10 a.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, "On-Farm Energy Production: Impacts on Farm Income and Rural Communities."
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on users of public lands, forests and national parks, 366 Dirksen.
2 p.m. — House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing, "Trade, Manufacturing, and Critical Supply Chains: Lessons from COVID-19."
Friday, July 24
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