Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Next Phase in Virus Relief

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

RFA Hits EPA for Delaying Action on 10th Circuit Court Ruling

The EPA announcement March 27 that it would “develop an appropriate implementation and enforcement response to the 10th Circuit’s decision in RFA [Renewable Fuels Association] v. EPA once appeals have been resolved and the court’s mandate has been issued,” has been greeted with criticism by RFA.

The EPA statement is an “attempt to kick the can on nationwide application of the 10th Circuit Court decision has nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with politics,” RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a statement. “There is absolutely no reasonable justification for delaying implementation of the court’s decision. The court has already ‘issued a mandate’ and remanded three improperly granted exemptions back to the agency to resolve.”

While labeling EPA’s decision to not appeal the court decision a correct one, Cooper said that equated to a decision that they will abide by the ruling. “What are they waiting for,” he asked.

Rehearing of the case at the behest of the refiners affected by the ruling is unlikely to see the matter overturned, Cooper stressed. “There is no rationale for EPA to wait for the courts to respond to the refiners’ hollow request for a rehearing before moving forward with adoption of the decision. In any event, given the unanimous and thoughtful decision by the 10th Circuit panel that heard the case, we are confident that the ruling is going to be upheld,” he said.

FSA Extending Loan Deadlines

USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced it is relaxing its loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.

“We recognize that farm loans are critical for annual operating and family living expenses, emergency needs and cash flow through times like this," FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said in a statement. "FSA is working to find and use every option and flexibility to provide producers with credit options and other program benefits.”

The difficulties linked to the coronavirus situation a prompting a host of actions across government that are aimed at streamlining activities for businesses and giving some leeway as they grapple with the virus’ impacts.

Washington Insider: Next Phase in Virus Relief

The shock from the COVID-19 attack on the U.S. population and economy has been so large and threatening that politicians are actively searching for more relief beyond the current measures.

The Hill is reporting this week that “Democrats are keen on including additional direct payments to Americans in the next coronavirus response bill to provide financial stability as the pandemic ravages the economy.”

The report says that numerous Democratic lawmakers have offered proposals for more generous payments than those included in the $2 trillion measure signed into law Friday. That was the third coronavirus bill the President signed recently and lawmakers are already starting to discuss their priorities for a “phase four” measure.

“Still, much of the discussion is uncertain because it’s driven by the trajectory of the disease,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

The newest bipartisan measure signed into law contained several provisions aimed at helping individuals and businesses cover their expenses during the pandemic. In addition to the one-time checks, unemployment insurance received a boost and small businesses can now access forgivable loans if they retain their workers.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he expects the relief will arrive within three weeks. By then, Democrats might already be giving shape to a fourth coronavirus relief bill, The Hill said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has made several comments backing enhanced direct payments. For example, a proposal released by House Democrats on Monday called for one-time cash payments of $1,500 for both adults and children, which is more generous than the payments in the current law.

“We had bigger direct payments in our bill,” Pelosi said during a press conference Thursday. “I don't think we’ve seen the end of direct payments.”

Numerous other Democratic lawmakers are proposing multiple rounds of payments to help Americans weather the pandemic.

Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, offered a plan that would provide most Americans with monthly checks for six months which Congress could renew for an additional six months if the outbreak continues to weigh on the economy.

“I think it’s important for mental health and economic health for people to know they have something to lean on,” Ryan said last week.

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, earlier this month proposed immediate payments of $2,000 per person with additional payments of smaller amounts if the economic turmoil persists.

Other Democrats who have floated multiple direct payments include House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters of California and prominent freshman progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

In addition to additional relief checks, Democrats have expressed an interest in expanding the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit -- two refundable credits benefiting low- and middle-income families -- as part of future coronavirus legislation. Many Democrats, including Brown and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., have long had an interest in expanding the credits and argue that doing so now would give families additional assistance.

Democrats aren’t the only ones who have suggested there should be more than one round of cash assistance. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has introduced a bill that would provide monthly payments to families during times of economic distress or school closures as a result of the coronavirus.

A spokesman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that it’s too soon to know what will be included in the next relief package. Grassley played a key role in the checks that were included in phase three.

Economic policy experts are cautioning that several factors will play into whether Congress creates additional direct payments, such as how long the outbreak persists and how effective and popular the checks and loans in the phase current package turn out to be.

Doug Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director and now president of the right-leaning American Action Forum, said that if the business loans are effective in keeping workers on payrolls, there won’t be a need for more checks -- but that the odds of Congress passing additional checks go up if the current supports don’t succeed in preventing further layoffs and business closures.

But Adam Ruben, director of Economic Security Project Action, which advocates for a “cost-of-living refund” -- said he doesn’t think additional cash payments would be a tough sell if some parts of the country recover faster than others. He said many people were struggling financially even before the coronavirus outbreak.

“A single check is a fundamental misunderstanding of this health crisis,” Ruben said. “Public health experts are predicting that this will be a marathon, and Americans need money in their wallets to sustain them.”

So, we will see. The massive response by the government appears to be popular now, but may well be less than totally effective -- especially if the virus’ impacts turn out to be even worse than expected. These are trends producers should watch closely as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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