Additional round of coronavirus aid expected

By Jennifer Dorsett

Agricultural organizations say additional assistance for farmers and ranchers reeling from the economic effects of COVID-19 is crucial to keeping family operations in business. And while Congress continues to work on a new coronavirus relief package, that aid may not come anytime soon.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate released its $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection & Schools (HEALS) Act on July 27.

The U.S. House passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act several weeks earlier.

Both bills provide relief for Americans struggling to stay afloat in the wake of the pandemic but differ drastically in amounts provided for different interests, including federal unemployment benefits, additional economic stimulus checks to individuals, additional funding for COVID-19 testing, SNAP benefits and aid for agriculture.

“We are pleased the Senate provided an additional $20 billion for agricultural producers, growers and processors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and included funds to strengthen the operations of agriculture-related federal agencies,” Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) National Legislative Director Laramie Adams said. “However, there is a lot of work that re-mains between House and Senate leaders to craft a final legislative package the president will sign.”

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and TFB asked for several provisions in the pro-posed legislation.

Those requests included replenishing Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funding, additional resources to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for COVID-19 response, support for farms and ranches of all sizes and commodities that were impacted by the pandemic and liability protection for farmers and ranchers who are doing their best to protect their workforce.

Additional requests included aid to contract poultry producers, waiving overtime fees for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service meat inspectors at smaller packing plants and to open Conservation Reserve Program lands for emergency haying and grazing.

Provisions for farmers, ranchers and other agribusinesses in the Senate’s HEALS Act include $20.457 billion to USDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and related agencies.

The Office of Agriculture Secretary would receive $20 billion to provide additional funding to assist farmers, ranchers and other related agricultural sectors impacted by COVID-19.

Eligible commodities covered in the HEALS Act include specialty crops, non-specialty crops, dairy, livestock and poultry, as well as livestock and poultry that had to be depopulated be-cause of lack of access to processors. Growers who produce livestock or poultry under a contract for another entity are also included.

The remaining funds would be distributed among USDA agencies, including the Farm Service Agency, Foreign Agricultural Service, Food and Nutrition Service and Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Service.

“We appreciate the Senate for working to provide additional assistance to farm and ranch families struggling through this pandemic,” Adams said. “While a long road of negotiations lie ahead, Texas Farm Bureau will continue working with leaders in Washington, D.C., every step of the way to help ensure agriculture receives the needed resources. At the end of the day, this is about providing the resources needed to keep our farmers and ranchers in business.”