Alabama farmers hope agriculture funding included in a $2 trillion stimulus package unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate Wednesday and a voice vote in the House of Representatives Friday will soften the blow of COVID-19 on the nation’s farm families.
“Farmers and ranchers already dealing with low commodity prices and skyrocketing production costs have been hit hard by this pandemic,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “We are pleased Congress recognizes the impact this economic downturn has on the men and women who grow our food and fiber. While no spending bill is perfect, this package gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) flexibility to address some of the most immediate challenges for farmers.”
The package gives USDA $9.5 billion in emergency funding to support farmers impacted by COVID-19, including livestock and specialty crop producers. It also provides $14 billion to replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which is used to fund farm programs and commodity purchase programs aimed at stabilizing markets while providing food assistance. Farm groups had requested CCC’s funding cap be raised from $30 billion to $50 billion.
“We anticipate a fourth round of stimulus funding will be needed as the full effects of COVID-19 are realized,” said Federation National Affairs Director Mitt Walker. “It is possible CCC’s borrowing authority could be increased to fund additional Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers.”
In addition to funding for farm programs, the stimulus package includes:
$145.5 million for rural development, including $100 million to expand rural broadband and $25 million to increase access to distance learning and telemedicine; and
$25.06 billion for food assistance programs, including $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs.
The package provides additional funding for USDA agencies to cover temporary employees, overtime and to offset loss of fee-related revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall praised swift passage of the bill through Congress to provide resources to farmers.
“The aid to farmers in this package, including funding for the CCC and the Office of the Secretary, will allow USDA to begin crafting an appropriate relief program for agriculture,” Duvall said.
The bulk of the historic stimulus package supports individual taxpayers, small businesses, hospitals and corporations hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It calls for one-time direct payments to individuals and families. All U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) would get $1,200 ($2,400 for couples). They are also eligible for an additional $500 per child. The payments would phase out for single taxpayers earning more than $99,000 and for joint filers with no children making more than $198,000.