Agriculture stimulus provisions released by Democrats on Tuesday would pay off minority farmers' USDA loans and provide $4 billion for purchasing commodities and providing pandemic-related assistance to processors and other parts of the food supply chain.
The $16.1 billion, 17-page measure — which the House Agriculture Committee will consider on Wednesday — also would provide $1 billion for community-based organizations as well as colleges and universities that assist minority farmers with land access, financial training, heirs property issues and other needs.
The measure will be folded into a $1.9 trillion stimulus package Democrats are trying to pass under the budget reconciliation process. Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., worked with his Senate counterpart, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, to develop the agriculture provisions.
Under the House committee measure, farmers who qualify as socially disadvantaged would be eligible for payments worth 120% of their indebtedness on direct or guaranteed farm loans. There is no spending cap on the provision.
"I am pleased to be a part of this effort to put our Black farmers in a better position after suffering the impacts of this pandemic and the inability to receive equal access to USDA programs over decades," said Scott, the House committee's first Black chairman.
The minority farmer provisions are in line with a bill that Stabenow and three new minority members of the Senate Agriculture Committee proposed on Monday that included $4 billion in direct payments to minority farmers to pay off outstanding loans and related taxes and "respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic." USDA's chief of staff, Katharine Ferguson, said in a statement the proposal would "bring much-needed economic assistance during the pandemic and begin to advance equity for farmers of color."
The $4 billion that is set aside in the House Agriculture Committee measure for the food supply chain contains elements of the Food Supply Protection Act Stabenow introduced last year as processors and farmers were struggling with processing disruptions.
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In addition to commodity purchases, the money also would fund grants and loans "for small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to COVID–19." The money could be used for personal protection equipment and also be used to including to "maintain and improve food and agricultural supply chain resiliency."
Some $100 million out of the $4 billion is earmarked for small-scale meat, poultry and egg processors to offset the cost of inspector overtime.
The bill also includes $500 million for a variety of rural health care needs, including vaccine and testing capacity and compensation for lost revenue due to the pandemic.
As proposed by President Joe Biden, the bill also would extend through September a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. The benefit increase, approved by Congress in December, is set to end June 30. Some $1.15 billion also is earmarked in the bill for compensating states for SNAP administrative expenses.
To deal with food insecurity overseas, the bill would provide an additional $800 million to the Food for Peace program, which pays for distributing U.S.-produced commodities in needy regions.
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