WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The Republican COVID-19 pandemic aid package announced Tuesday will provide $20.457 billion in "direct funding" to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that can be used for a variety of purposes, including aiding livestock producers who had to dispose of their animals. But the bill does not make any changes to how the Commodity Credit Corporation can spend money.
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced the direct funding under what the Senate Republicans are calling the HEALS Act. Hoeven also noted that USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation already has $14 billion to spend on COVID-19 relief.
"This HEALS Act assistance we secured for farmers and ranchers will help to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on farm country," said Hoeven.
"Between the new direct funding and the CCC commitment, USDA will provide $34 billion to producers. At the same time, we are working through the Agriculture Appropriations Committee to ensure there is enough additional CCC authority for the regular farm bill programs. I am hopeful that we can pass this much-needed relief for producers in a timely way."
The text of the bill funding would be available to support "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."
What the bill does not include, as of yet, is any specific language providing aid to the ethanol industry. Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, wrote an op-ed in the Hill highlighting the impacts of pandemic and economic shutdown on the ethanol industry. Cooper noted the Trump administration has aided the petroleum industry by taking in excess oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that has boosted oil prices. EPA also continues finding ways to provide regulatory relief for the fossil-fuels industry.
"The ethanol industry isn't asking for a 'bailout.' It's simply asking for Congress and USDA to lend a hand to help pull us up off the mat after COVID-19 dealt the industry a crushing blow," Cooper wrote. "That helping hand has already been extended to many other agricultural sectors and producers, as well as the oil and gas industry. As the Senate completes work on its Phase 4 stimulus bill, it should ensure the ethanol industry is not again left behind."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday morning he has had talks with Vice President Mike Pence on aid to the ethanol industry. Grassley also talked with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Grassley added that fellow Iowa Senator Joni Ernst was trying to reach out to President Donald Trump, as well.
"I've made very clear from my position from talking to these people that we are talking about equity," Grassley said. He said the petroleum reserve aid to the oil industry amounts to about $3 billion. "So we're asking for $3 billion for ethanol, and I haven't gotten a 'no' from anybody, and that's kind of where we are."
Still, Grassley said right now it looks like the ethanol industry would have to depend on Perdue to carve out aid for ethanol.
For agriculture, the bill also includes:
-- $76.4 million for additional salaries and expenses at the Farm Service Agency "to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including necessary expenses to hire temporary staff and overtime expenses."
-- $20 million for rural development program salaries and expenses "to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including administrative expenses."
-- $113.4 million for the USDA rental assistance program for temporary adjustment of wage income losses for residents of housing financed or assisted under the Housing Act of 1949.
-- $250,000 for nutrition programs administration overtime expenses.
-- $2 million for the Foreign Agricultural Service for additional salaries and expenses including relocation of employees and their dependents from overseas posts.
-- $245 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to make up for the loss of quarantine and inspection fees resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The GOP bill comes in at about $1 trillion, but would reduce the federal unemployment benefit from $600 a week down to $200. The package does include another round of $1,200 payments to taxpayers.
The Washington Post reported talks began late Monday with congressional Democratic leaders as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. House Democrats had approved a $3 trillion bill in May that would largely maintain the $600 a week for unemployment, but also included $1 trillion in aid for states and local governments.
The Senate bill also provides another $100 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program run through the Small Business Administration that has given out about 5 million loans totaling more than $517.4 billion. Just under 140,000 loans have gone to agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting businesses, including farms. Those sectors have taken up just under $7.9 billion in loans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also has put together liability protection for businesses from being sued over the coronavirus.
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