Washington Insider-- Wednesday

Coronavirus Relief Fight Renewed

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

CFAP Payments Reach $6.55 Billion

USDA has now paid out $6.55 billion under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) with 473,124 applications approved as of July 27.

Of the $6.55 billion, USDA has paid out $3.31 billion for livestock, $1.73 billion for non-specialty crops, $1.29 billion for dairy and $227.5 million for specialty crops. Payouts by commodities are led by $2.87 billion for cattle, $1.29 billion for milk, $1.18 billion for corn, $416.1 million for hogs, $330.8 million for soybeans and $164.6 million for upland cotton.

USDA initially projected that the initial round of payments to producers (80% of estimated gross payments) would be $3.01 billion for non-specialty crops, $2.30 billion for special crops, $2.78 billion for dairy, $4.35 billion for cattle, $2.14 billion for hogs and pigs and $80 million for other sectors for a total of $15.38 billion.

The top six states receiving the aid are Iowa ($678.8 million), Nebraska ($484.2 million), Minnesota ($420.4 million), Wisconsin ($384.2 million), Texas ($355.6 million) and California ($345.4 million).

USDA Addresses Unsolicited Seeds Received by Some Americans

Consumers in multiple states have received packages of seeds that are labeled as jewelry or have Chinese language on the packets. Agriculture commissioners in several states have warned against planting the seeds.

States reporting the deliveries include Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) tweeted Tuesday they are “working closely with @CBP and State Depts of Ag re: unrequested seeds.” They urge those receiving the seeds to contact their state ag department or the state Plant Health Office. “Keep packaging and do not plant seeds from an unknown origin!” APHIS urged.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China strictly follows restrictions on sending seeds and said the records on the packages appear to have been falsified, according to checks by China's postal service.


Washington Insider: Coronavirus Relief Fight Renewed

Bloomberg reports this week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is taking the $1 trillion GOP virus relief package into negotiations with Democrats weighed down by a divided party and friction with the White House.

The report notes a “fresh urgency for Republicans to act” months after McConnell pressed the “pause button” on new aid, as virus cases and deaths have soared and the president's poll ratings have slumped, threatening GOP control of both the White House and Senate.

It also notes that Senate Republicans are split sharply, with some conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wanting to spend far less, if anything, on another stimulus amid record deficits, while others want more aid to state and local governments.

Democrats, who've proposed a $3.5 trillion virus relief package, are eager to exploit those divisions. After meeting for almost two hours Monday night with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the GOP proposal and said McConnell wouldn't even be able to count on Republican backing if it was put before the Senate.

“It's pretty clear they don't have 51 votes in the Senate among the Republicans for a proposal,” Schumer said.

With supplemental unemployment insurance expiring and other elements of the last stimulus legislation beginning to dry up, Congress has little time for extended negotiations, Bloomberg thinks. Lawmakers are set to leave for an August break in two weeks and will be facing a timetable compressed by the looming November election when they return in September.

“The American people need more help, they need it to be comprehensive, and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads,” McConnell said as he rolled out the GOP package. The bill would trim extra unemployment benefits, send $1,200 payments to a majority of Americans and shield schools, businesses, and other groups from lawsuits stemming from infections.

Bloomberg noted key items in the bill include, among other things, $105 billion in education funding, with $70 billion going toward elementary, middle and high schools; $29 billion for colleges, and $5 billion for a flexible fund. Two-thirds of the funds would go to schools that institute reopening plans and the rest to schools as a whole, under existing federal formulas.

In addition, it would include a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program aimed to target those worst affected and a new government-guaranteed, long-term loan initiative of almost $60 billion created for seasonal firms and those in low-income communities as well as $16 billion to help states ramp up tests and contact tracing. Republicans in the Senate had initially sought $25 billion in new funds. Also, the bill seeks to end dependence on foreign supply chains for personal protective equipment through tax credits to spur domestic manufacturing.

The bill also includes $10 billion for the nation's airports as the pandemic continues to strain the aviation industry, although that figure is less than the $13 billion requested by airport organizations. Facilities that receive aid would have to keep at least 90% of their workers employed through March 2021. More than 3,000 U.S. airports already received a combined $10 billion under the March coronavirus relief package.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters in Washington, a priority for the president who wants to prevent the facility from being moved to the suburbs. Plans to relocate the FBI from its current location about four blocks from the White House had been in the works since about 2012 — but were scuttled after the president took office.

Not included in the proposal is any new money for states and cities to cope with swelling budget shortfalls, leaving them to contend with a grave financial crisis that's already forcing them to slash spending, furlough workers and delay major projects as tax revenue disappears. That's a stark contrast to the approximately $1 trillion that Democrats included in the bill the House passed last May, Bloomberg said.

So, we will see. The politics surrounding coronavirus relief have hardened significantly in recent weeks, as the pre-election debate has intensified. While the need for additional support has increased as the virus attacks have continued with the approach of the new school year — but so has the “sticker shock” of the growing deficits. These are concerns and debates that producers should watch closely as the fights intensify, Washington Insider believes.

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