Ag Policy Blog

As Vilsack is Sworn in, AFBF Asks for Extension to Sign up For Aid

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Vice President Kalama Harris presides over the swearing-in of Tom Vilsack as Agriculture secretary on Wednesday. (White House photo)

Vice President Harris swore in Tom Vilsack as the Biden-Harris' Agriculture secretary on Tuesday evening, about 24 hours after the Senate confirmed him.

Harris was on the stage alone with no mask with Vilsack and his family joining in via Zoom, according to a White House pool report.

Before the ceremony began, Harris could be overheard saying it was the first swearing in she's done virtually, according to the pool report.

Before he was sworn in, Vilsack said the second gentleman had called to congratulate him, and Biden told Harris that “we want to get him involved in nutrition.” Harris replied Emhoff “cares a great deal about that.”

After swearing Vilsack in, Harris said, “Congratulations Mr. Secretary and to the whole family. Congratulations to everyone. The president is so excited. We've got a lot of work to do, and we'll do it together.”

An official in Harris' office said that Vilsack is being sworn in on a Bible he has had since he was 16 years old. It was a gift from his mother on his adoption day – a tradition by his parents of giving him a gift to mark the occasion. He was also sworn in on this Bible as governor and previously as Agriculture secretary.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall on Wednesday also asked Vilsack to extend the deadline to apply for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

In January, an additional $13 billion in assistance was made available to help farmers and ranchers who are suffering losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The current deadline is this Friday, February 26, but recent severe weather and the suspension of CFAP payments led to challenges and confusion surrounding the application process.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Duvall said, “The recent Regulatory Freeze Pending Review on all new and pending executive actions, though common during a change in Administration, has created confusion for farmers and ranchers with respect to eligibility and the application process for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program – Additional Assistance. Although Farm Service Agency offices continued to accept applications during the regulatory freeze, some farmers may have interpreted the implementation suspension to mean that the program was being modified or potentially terminated.”

The letter also notes severe weather, which impacted travel conditions and created broadband disruptions, may have also impacted farmers' ability to complete the application process. AFBF is asking USDA to extend the deadline to apply for assistance by at least 30 days after the regulatory review is completed.

Matt Herrick, a Vilsack spokesman who also worked for him when he was secretary in the Obama administration, told reporters, “The review of CFAP-AA is ongoing, and we anticipate a decision in the weeks ahead. It's important to note that payments for CFAP-2 continue; payments from December sign-ups went out as scheduled even just last week. The CFAP Additional Assistance program is under review. FSA [Farm Service Agency] is eliminating the deadline on CFAP-AA and [will] continue to accept applications during the evaluation period so that, once a determination is made on the direction, we are ready to act. FSA will provide at least an additional 30 days for producers to sign up after any decision is announced. We remain focused on helping producers who have been hurt by COVID-19 market disruptions, trade disputes and extreme weather. A number of members of Congress, farmers and organizations have reached out to identify gaps in the previous rounds of assistance and USDA welcomes this input during the evaluation period. What we're doing now is listening and gathering feedback so that we get help to as many producers as possible without focusing on one group or geography at the expense of another.”

As DTN highlighted on Wednesday, Iowa lawmakers and others also are asking for aid extensions from Vilsack. https://www.dtnpf.com/…

AFBF letter: https://www.fb.org/…

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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