WASHINGTON, (DTN) -- The coronavirus aid bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced Tuesday will include $20 billion in additional aid for farmers and others in agriculture.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill soon, perhaps this week, but it does not have much chance of becoming law unless the Republican-controlled Senate reaches agreement with the Democratic-controlled House and President Donald Trump agrees to sign the legislation.
The Delivering Immediate Relief to America's Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act says on page 281 that the Office of the Agriculture Secretary is to receive “$20,000,000,000, to remain available until expended, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers, growers, and processors impacted by coronavirus, including producers, growers, and processors of specialty crops, non-specialty crops, dairy, livestock and poultry, including livestock and poultry depopulated due to insufficient processing access and growers who produce livestock or poultry under a contract for another entity.”
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., noted in a news release Tuesday that he and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is in a tough re-election battle, had led a group of Republican senators in “pressing the leadership to include the funding.”
“We are working in a targeted way to provide more help to overcome the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, including through support for our schools, teachers, and small businesses, as well as for vaccine development and testing,” said Hoeven. “As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, I also worked to ensure that assistance for farmers and ranchers was included as part of this targeted legislation. The proposal includes $20 billion in direct funding, which combined with the $14 billion CCC replenishment from the CARES Act, will provide USDA with $34 billion to help producers weather the challenges in farm country. I hope Congress can come together and pass this targeted relief legislation as soon as possible.”
Hoeven said that the overall bill, if it becomes law, would provide “targeted relief for health care, education and economic needs. In addition to the agriculture funding, the bill provides support for COVID-19 testing and vaccines, up to a $300 federal unemployment boost, assistance for schools and universities, support for the U.S Postal Service, and another round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help small businesses.”
The legislation does not specify that ethanol producers or plants are to be eligible for aid. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been pushing for the word “ethanol” to be included in the bill, but he has said repeatedly that if the decision on providing aid to ethanol producers is left up to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, he and Ernst will push Perdue to use a portion of the funds to help ethanol producers.
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew told reporters Tuesday that the inclusion of the aid for farmers was positive, but that the bigger question is the passage of an overall bill. Larew also said that the bill does not contain an increase in nutrition assistance, a key demand of both House and Senate Democrats.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that Congress will not pass aid to farmers without increasing nutrition benefits. Anti-hunger advocates have called for a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday, “McConnell's legislation includes no rental assistance, no state or local fiscal relief beyond inadequate school aid, and?a short-term fix to jobless benefits that cuts the?previous $600 benefit in half. Some 29 million adults reported that their household didn't get enough to eat and nearly 15 million adults reported being behind on rent, according to the most recent Census Household Pulse Survey data available.”
McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday, “We're releasing a targeted proposal that focuses on several of the most urgent aspects of this crisis, the issues where bipartisanship should be especially possible.”
But the bill is far from the $3 trillion bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has proposed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor Tuesday, “Republicans call this a skinny or targeted proposal. But it would be more appropriate to call it emaciated. Shockingly as the pain from this pandemic gets bigger and bigger, Republicans think smaller and smaller. They're moving backwards. Their proposal is completely inadequate and by every measure fails to meet the needs of the American people with no money for rental assistance, nutrition assistance, the Census, safe elections and so many other things.”
The National Association of Counties also released a statement saying the Senate bill "falls short" of providing aid to counties of all sizes. NACO stated counties are playing a significant role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and dealing with issues related to supporting small businesses and schools. “We call on White House and congressional leaders to reach an agreement on a robust coronavirus relief bill that ensures counties of all sizes have access to additional direct, flexible funding to fight this pandemic, rebuild the economy and strengthen our communities. We urge members of the House and Senate to oppose any agreement that does not invest in counties.”
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport
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