Tom Vilsack was sworn in Wednesday evening for his second stint as agriculture secretary, and the Agriculture Department provided new guidance on its review and planned implementation of additional coronavirus relief. 

Vilsack took the oath of office from Vice President Kamala Harris in a virtual ceremony. Shortly afterward, a USDA spokesperson sent a statement to Agri-Pulse laying out the next steps for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Additional Assistance payments.

The Biden administration froze the payments shortly after taking office. Now, a decision from the ongoing review of the program can be anticipated “in the weeks ahead.”

A spokesperson noted payments for CFAP-2 continue; payments from December sign-ups went out as scheduled just last week. The CFAP Additional Assistance program is under review.

The Farm Service Agency "is eliminating the deadline on CFAP-AA and (will) continue to accept applications during the evaluation period so that, once a determination is made on the direction, we are ready to act,” the spokesperson said. “FSA will provide at least an additional 30 days for producers to sign up after any decision is announced. 

“We remain focused on helping producers who have been hurt by COVID-19 market disruptions, trade disputes and extreme weather,” the statement added. “A number of members of Congress, farmers and organizations have reached out to identify gaps in the previous rounds of assistance, and USDA welcomes this input during the evaluation period.”

According to the statement, USDA is currently “listening and gathering feedback so that we get help to as many producers as possible without focusing on one group or geography at the expense of another.”

Producers can also expect payments authorized in a December spending package, including $20-per-acre payments to row crop growers as well as additional assistance for livestock producers. A spokesperson says those payments are currently awaiting finalization of the necessary policy and logistics. 

Vilsack, who served as agriculture secretary from 2009 to 2017 under then-President Barack Obama, was sworn in surrounded by family and with a Bible that was also used in his swearing in ceremonies as Iowa’s governor and his previous tenure as ag secretary. According to the White House, the Bible was given to him on his adoption day by his mother.

A previous version of this story reported payments from the December legislation were included in the Biden administration's freeze, not just the CFAP-AA payments. The story was updated March 2 after clarification from a USDA spokesperson. 

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