The top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee wants the Department of Agriculture to show how it spent $11 billion in funding designed to help producers weather the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arkansas Republican John Boozman, who is in line to chair the committee if Republicans gain control of the Senate in next week’s midterm elections, is seeking specifics on funding from the fiscal 2021 omnibus spending bill.

In that legislation, Congress allocated $11 billion “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers, growers, and processors impacted by” the impacts of the market shocks stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, after a brief protest from then-President Donald Trump, contained some specifics on how the money was to be spent, including $20-per-acre payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

In a letter to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, Boozman said he was satisfied with the department’s implementation of the specifics Congress outlined in the bill, but wants to see how it handled the rest of the money.

“Many of USDA's efforts appropriately aligned with the intent of Congress to help agriculture and food industry stakeholders respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. “I am concerned, however, that as the need for additional financial resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has waned, USDA has begun using unobligated balances … for projects unrelated to mitigating the impacts of the coronavirus.”

In his letter, Boozman specifically asks for “a report of all programs and activities funded or intended to be funded” using the money in the appropriations bill “and USDA’s rationale explaining how the use of said funds is consistent with the law.” Boozman also seeks specific amounts across programs funded with the COVID relief funds as well as any analysis conducted by USDA’s general counsel and chief economist offices.

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Boozman’s letter underscores the probable increase in oversight the Biden administration — and its Department of Agriculture — would see if Republicans control either chamber in the next Congress. Republicans are widely expected to take control of the House and could win the Senate as well.

Boozman wants the information from USDA by the end of November.

In a statement, USDA press secretary Marissa Perry told Agri-Pulse USDA has acted in accordance with the spending bill and has “continued to conduct vitally important work to aid in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that impacted producers, growers, processors, and others along the supply chain can look to a prosperous future. USDA has undertaken this work in an open and transparent fashion and is committed to continuing to work closely with our Congressional partners.”

This story has been updated to include a USDA statement.

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