A bipartisan group of senators negotiating a $908 billion coronavirus relief package is circulating a summary of the plan that says $13 billion would be allocated for the agriculture sector.
The summary, obtained by Agri-Pulse, doesn't specify how the money would be spent except for earmarking $600 million for fishery disaster relief.
A broad outline of the proposal said only that $26 billion would be provided for agriculture and nutrition.
According to the new summary, the plan would temporarily boost the individual monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 15% for four months and provide funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to assist food banks and food pantries.
It would also temporarily increase the value of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits allowing participants to purchase additional fruit and vegetables.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, a senator leading the negotiations, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va, said lawmakers are making progress on state and local funding, as well as liability protections.
Those two issues have been two major sticking points among Republicans and Democrats the last several months which have been the reason they haven’t reached an agreement for COVID relief yet.
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“I hope we’ll have our language done by this evening,” Manchin said. “That’s what we’re shooting for." He said he understood there was an agreement Tuesday night on state and local funding and thought lawmakers were getting to an agreement on liability protections.
When asked if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP leaders were taking the bill seriously, Manchin responded, “they’ve got nothing else on the table.”
The bipartisan package would provide about $10 billion for broadband needs, including $6.25 billion that would go toward state broadband deployment and broadband connectivity grants. The grants are intended to ensure “affordable access to broadband” during the pandemic, the summary says.
Another $3 billion would be allocated to the Emergency Educational Connectivity Fund. This money would be prioritized to rural areas with the highest need to help educational and distance learning providers distribute hot spots, devices, and other connected devices.
The Federal Communications Commission would receive $475 million for its COVID-19 telehealth program to enhance health care providers efforts to combat the coronavirus. There would be a 20% set aside for small, rural providers.
The agriculture section of the summary also says that USDA Rural Development would get funding for water and wastewater programs. The amount was not specified.
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