The $1.9 trillion relief plan moving through the House of Representatives has roughly $16.1 billion in specific provisions for USDA -- mainly for nutrition programs -- but boosts in agricultural aid steered toward buying commodities or supporting minority or socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
A key part of the bill would boost food-aid benefits, which take up roughly $12 billion in the projected costs of the agricultural provisions. That includes a 15% boost in weekly benefits under USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for lower-income people and those out of work. The higher benefits would run at least through the end of September.
The aid package is moving through Congress under a budget reconciliation process that would allow the Senate to pass the bill without going through its typical 60-vote procedural approval. Both the House and Senate will pass their own versions of the aid package. On Tuesday, the language in the Agriculture and Nutrition title of the FY2021 Budget Reconciliation Act was released.
It's unclear exactly when the House will bring the reconciliation package to a full floor vote. A big chunk of the aid will be stimulus payments of $1,400 per individual earning up to $75,000 per year, or $150,000 for couples. The bill also could phase in a higher minimum wage as well that could climb to $15 an hour.
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he is proud of the work that went into the bill, which will provide assistance for farmers, rural communities and "the most vulnerable among us," Scott said.
"This bill is a stepping stone to the vision President Biden has set forth to get our country back on track. Each dollar included in this legislation plays an invaluable role in doing just that," Scott said. "I am pleased to be a part of this effort to put our Black farmers in a better position after suffering the impacts of this pandemic and the inability to receive equal access to USDA programs over decades."
Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, criticized the agricultural portions of the reconciliation bill because of the lack of Republican input.
"Democrats unveiled their $16 billion, which was drafted behind closed doors, placing secrecy over solutions," Thompson said. "The package is neither timely, nor targeted, and will fall devastatingly short of delivering direct relief for the agriculture industry and farm families. I implore my colleagues across the aisle to work with us to more thoroughly review resources and need to better provide support."
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition stated the package provides continually needed aid to address both resiliency related to COVID-19 and address racial inequities and the food and farm system.
"The House has provided additional funding to buy more farm products directly from farmers and to bolster key elements of the food supply chain during this critical period," said Eric Deeble, policy director for NSAC. "Investments in reducing the costs necessary to help small plants and processors run at full capacity, making sure that farmers markets are up and running, and that farmers, processors, and market operators have resources to adapt to new market conditions and purchase PPE for themselves and their staff will ensure that farmers, ranchers, fishers, and other producers can get their goods to market and serve people in their community who continue to struggle.”
The bill includes $3.6 billion for USDA continue to help the food and agricultural sector supply chains. This could include providing assistance to processors, non-profits such as food banks, or farmers for equipment or other supplies, and ensure more worker-protection aid in provided as well.
The bill also dedicated another $1 billion in aid will go to community-based organizations and 1890 Land Grand and other minority-serving institutions that work with Black, indigenous and other farmers of color on issues of land access, financial training and heirs property issues. That includes establishing an equity commission and a legal center to provide advice for minority farmers.
Among the provisions, the bill also would boost USDA loan assistance for Black farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers as well. A provision in the bill would pay for up to 120% of total outstanding indebtedness on USDA loans or loan guarantees that were on the books as of Jan. 1.
The bill also includes $800 million more for the Food for Peace program to buy U.S. commodities for international food aid.
Another $500 million would go to fund the Community Facility Program to help rural hospitals and local communities get out both vaccines and food aid to people.
To deal with small meat and poultry processors, the bill sets aside $100 million to help with COVID-19 related backlogs. Among the provisions would be discounted inspection fees during overtime or holiday hours for packers that qualify as a "small establishment," and a "very small establishment."
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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