Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 4.13

Monday, April 13th, 2020


April 13, 2020

A quick look at what’s happening in Washington, D.C. that’s impacting food and agriculture. If you would like to subscribe to the receive the updates right to your inbox, please contact Marissa Dake

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– Congressional leadership continues to negotiate provisions for the “phase four” coronavirus bill, although both chambers will remain in recess until at least April 20. Last week, Majority Leader McConnell attempted to hotline $251 billion in additional funding to the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) authorized in the CARES Act. Senate Democrats blocked the move, instead offering a plan of their own to address coronavirus response.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 21 House members wrote two letters to SBA Administrator Carranza, asking the agency to add agriculture to the Economic Injury and Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-TX-12) spearheaded the House letter to SBA, which also requested flexibility for PPP.

Federal Update– USDA released guidance on the PPP as a way to help farmers identify available resources offered to them during these challenging economic times. The Farm Credit System is also working quickly to find loan solutions for their customers after some lenders have voiced challenges with the PPP.

Last week’s World Agricultural and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report by USDA projected a drop in domestic and international demands, which only increases the urgency to provide aid to farmers in a timely manner. President Trump said Thursday that farmers will be receiving federal aid in the “pretty near future,” acknowledging “farmers were hurt very badly by all of this.” USDA Secretary Perdue also promised Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Stabenow (D-MI) that the farm aid will be distributed in a “fair and equitable” manner, responding to industry concerns about the fairness of prior direct farm payments.

Furthermore, Secretary Perdue said the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) should receive a $14 billion replenishment in FY20 funds after June 30. The funds are authorized through language in the CARES Act, conditional upon the ending balance of the June financial statement.

Industry Update– Last week, the United Fresh Produce Association wrote to USDA, requesting direct support for the specialty crop industry. This request echoed sentiments from a bipartisan letter, led by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), earlier in the week. The “Produce Market Stabilization Program” asks for $5 billion of aid go directly to the produce industry. Additionally, the dairy industry has been greatly affected by the pandemic, forcing many farmers to dump their milk. Several dairy groups have proposed ideas ranging from direct payments to product purchases that would assist food banks. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), also sent a joint “Milk Crisis Plan” to USDA. USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) on Friday also issued policy changes that “allow[s] dumped milk to be counted as milk marketings for the Dairy Revenue Production (DRP) or actual marketings for the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy (LGM-Dairy) programs.” The cattle industry is also requesting USDA support through a letter, signed by more than 100 lawmakers, stating that “there is an immediate need for assistance for cattle producers.”

Big Picture Outlook

2020 Presidential Election– Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) ended his presidential campaign, clearing the way for former Vice President Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee. Now, the attention turns to who the former vice president will choose as a running mate. One option is former presidential candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Hailing from Minnesota, her potential to win the rural vote makes her a strong choice for Biden’s running mate. Other top contenders include Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Food Insecurity Heightened During Global Pandemic– As the national unemployment rate continues to rise, more Americans are eligible for food assistance programs. Food banks are faced with unprecedented demand as they struggle to respond to the volume of people who need assistance. Additionally, most Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants are ineligible to buy groceries online. Last week, legislators and anti-hunger advocates pressured USDA to allow low-income Americans to purchase groceries online using their SNAP benefits. The option could help vulnerable recipients practice safe social distancing through the coronavirus crisis. USDA is responding to the pandemic by expanding their online purchasing pilot, authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, to include additional states.

The Week Ahead
The House and Senate remain in recess until at least April 20.

A Quick Look Back