Approximately one year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and wreaked havoc on America’s public health and economy. The effects were especially devastating for farmers, agri-businesses and rural communities throughout southern Minnesota and the nation, due to the forced shuttering of packing plants, closing of restaurants and schools, and historic drops in demand.

Since the pandemic’s onset, Congress passed five bipartisan relief measures that have helped keep small businesses and our economy afloat through direct aid and the establishment of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has delivered nearly 7.1 million forgivable loans for small businesses, worth more than $662 billion.

The recent vaccine news is encouraging, and there is hope for a return to normalcy very soon. However, it is critical that as we take the overdue steps to fully open the economy, we ensure that the agriculture sector has access to the necessary resources to sustain America’s food and energy supply. That is why I recently introduced H.R. 1411 – the bipartisan PPP Flexibility for Farmers and Ranchers Act, which allows farmers and ranchers categorized as partnerships to utilize gross income when calculating maximum PPP loan amounts.

The CARES Act allowed for farmers and ranchers to apply for PPP loans by utilizing net income in their loan calculations. Unfortunately, this prevented many agricultural partnerships from receiving the maximum PPP loan possible. My legislation provides enhanced flexibility by allowing the use of gross income to calculate the maximum loan amount. The bill also includes a retroactive provision to enable producers, who initially used net income, to recalculate their PPP loans, so long as the loans have not been forgiven.

The more than 100,000 farm partnerships across America serve, in many ways, as the backbone of the nation’s economy and are essential to the health of our food supply and rural communities. The measure I’ve introduced will fill the current void and ensure that these small partnerships have access to “every tool in the shed” to maintain operations, production and staff levels as the country moves toward reopening and a return to life as we once knew it.

Thus far, more than 60 of my colleagues, including the top Republicans on the House Agriculture and Small Business Committees, have lent support to this bipartisan legislation. The measure has also garnered praise and backing from national agricultural groups, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Farm Credit Council, CoBank, National Corn Growers Association, Independent Community Bankers of America, Compeer Financial and the American Sugar Alliance.

As the majority party in Congress pushes blowout spending packages that have little to do with fighting the spread of COVID-19 or helping Americans back on their feet, I hope even more of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in this commonsense effort to boost our farmers, ranchers and agricultural economy.

Jim Hagedorn represents Minnesota’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the House Committees on Agriculture and Small Business.

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