The Senate returns to work this week with Republicans struggling to agree among themselves on a coronavirus aid package and no sign of progress in negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House.
The Trump administration, however, isn’t waiting on Congress to act to provide a new round of coronavirus relief payments to farmers.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters in Iowa Thursday that he would announce rules for a second round Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments this week ahead of Friday’s deadline for signing up for the original program.
USDA doesn’t need to go back to Congress for authority to make additional CFAP payments because the department has at least $14 billion available, money that was provided by the CARES Act, which passed in late March.
Perdue indicated that the CFAP-2 payments would go to the same commodities eligible for the first round, and he confirmed that there would be no payments for ethanol producers, textile mills and other processors of agricultural commodities that are seeking aid.
The secretary reiterated that USDA would need new statutory authority to provide payments to those companies, and that could depend on whether Congress can agree on a coronavirus relief bill.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had agreed that Congress would pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running after Sept. 30, when fiscal 2020 ends.
Mnuchin said that CR, which he expected to keep the government funded into December, would be handled separately from negotiations over a new coronavirus bill. "We both don’t want to see a government shut down," he said.
Senate Republicans have been talking regularly by conference call, but had yet to even agree on what should be in their version of an aid bill, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said on Friday. “We have been working on a good proposal, trying to bring in a lot of different ideas, a lot of different viewpoints,” she told a pool reporter. “And we’ll see if we’re able to get something put together.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed uncertainty last week that there would ultimately be a deal with Democrats on a new coronavirus bill ahead of the election, but he assured Agri-Pulse last week that the GOP proposal would include an additional $20 billion in USDA spending authority.
“American agriculture did a marvelous job of feeding us through” the pandemic, McConnell said. “Nothing could be more vital with everyone stuck at home.”
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York said Republicans appear to be scaling back their $1 trillion HEALS Act, a package that would included the $20 billion for USDA as well as expanded authority for USDA to compensate ag processors and livestock and poultry producers for pandemic-related disruptions.
Larger provisions in that proposal, which was never put on the Senate floor for a vote, would provide a new round of stimulus checks to individuals, aid to state and local governments, and an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program.
A slimmed-down proposal that Republicans appear to be considering would be “completely inadequate and, by every measure, fails to meet the needs of the American people,” Schumer said in a message to Democratic colleagues.
“With no money for rental assistance, no money for nutrition assistance, and no money for state and local services, the census, or safe elections, Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans would be making another unacceptable and ineffective attempt at providing relief."
Mnuchin said the negotiations remain stuck over the overall cost of the bill. Pelosi has insisted that Republicans agree to spend more than $2 trillion.
Also this week. USDA on Friday will release a monthly Crop Production report that could provide fresh estimates of the impact of the devastating August derecho on Iowa’s corn crop. RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness has estimated that the storm damage will likely reduce the corn yield nationally by 2-4% and lower ending stocks from 2.8 billion to 2.5 billion bushels.
On Wednesday, USDA will release its annual report on food security in the United States. The report, which will be based on 2019 data, will not capture the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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In 2018, the rate of food insecurity fell to 11.1% of households, down from 11.8% in 2017. Food-insecure households are defined as those who had difficulty any time during the year in providing enough food for all their members.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sept. 7
Tuesday, Sept. 8
10 a.m. - Farm Foundation online forum, “Investing in Agriculture - What Does the Future Hold?”
4:00 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Wednesday, Sept. 9
9 a.m. - USDA releases annual Food Security in the United States report.
9 a.m. PST. The virtual Agri-Pulse Food & Ag Policy Summit kicks off in Sacramento.
Thursday, Sept. 10
EPA Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee online meeting, through Friday.
Friday, Sept. 11
Deadline for farmers to apply for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com