Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 4.27

Monday, April 27th, 2020


April 27, 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– Last week, Congress passed another $484 billion coronavirus aid package. President Trump signed the bill into law Friday, which authorized $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and an additional $60 billion for the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. The EIDL Program was also expanded to include agricultural operations.

Negotiations for further emergency pandemic relief legislation are ongoing. Most recently, a group of more than 30 Republican and Democratic House members, led by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA-08), introduced legislative language that proposes including an additional $50 billion in farm aid in the next coronavirus relief bill. Many of these members are on the House Agriculture Committee. Their proposal also considers industry requests to prevent the USDA from placing limits on direct payments for farmers in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Separately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently suggested states file for bankruptcy rather than receiving additional federal funds through Congress.

Federal Update– USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has rolled out several initiatives to meet their commitment to “Do Right and Feed Everyone” during the coronavirus crisis. Last week, the agency announced a 40% increase in monthly benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) authorized this 40% benefits increase by appropriating $2 billion in monthly emergency funds for SNAP, in addition to the normal allotment of approximately $4.5 billion per month. Additionally, SNAP recipients in 16 states are now eligible to use their benefits for online grocery shopping. These states represent more than half of all SNAP recipients. Other efforts include approval of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (Pandemic EBT) for eight states. Pandemic EBT is a supplemental food purchasing benefit to offset food costs incurred by households that have children who normally receive free or reduced-price meals at school.

Industry Update– Since the announcement of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), industry groups have continued voicing uncertainty that the USDA’s $19 billion plans will be enough to keep producers afloat. Among them is the Farm Credit System, which welcomed CFAP, but worry that it and the PPP replenishment are not enough. Both banking groups and members of the Farm Credit System suspect the volume of backlogged applications for PPP will exhaust the additional funds almost immediately. Farm Credit Council President and CEO, Todd Van Hoose, also said the farm credit banks plan to ask for another farm aid package when Congress resumes in May.

Additionally, the dairy industry expressed frustration with CFAP after Secretary Perdue rejected their request to reopen enrollment for the milk pricing insurance program. When asked why, Secretary Perdue said, “We literally begged people to sign up last year…it doesn’t make any sense to have an insurance program and allow people to retroactively decide to elect coverage after they need it.”

Big Picture Outlook

Farm Bureau Advocates for Increasing the CCC Borrowing Limit– Economists at American Farm Bureau Federation reviewed the Commodity Credit Corporation’s(CCC) authority last week, examining the history of the program’s borrowing limit. The CCC – the funding source for Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments – is able to borrow up to $30 billion each year, in addition to its own funds allotted by the government. However, the $30 billion borrowing limit was set more than 30 years ago and has not been adjusted for inflation since. Considering inflation would more than double the borrowing limit, increasing it to $68 billion. A new limit could provide the USDA with more financial resources to assist the farm economy in unprecedented times, such as the coronavirus crisis and ongoing trade disputes.

Ethanol Industry Hemorrhaging Amidst Global Pandemic– The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) claimed USDA “missed a crucial opportunity” to help the biofuel industry, especially as gasoline consumption continues to plummet from lack of drivers on the roads. This claim came after the ethanol industry was evidently excluded from the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) plan. USDA Secretary Perdue responded to ethanol producers’ frustration, saying Congress did not give the agency enough funds to help all farmers and sectors in need. RFA projects the pandemic could lead to a $10 billion decrease in US ethanol sales, and the damages can negatively impact the 350,000 jobs that the industry supports.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans Update– The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s schedule is extended by one month to accommodate Committee members’ changing schedules due to COVID-19. Now, the Committee will present its final draft of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) to USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials on June 8 via webcast. Additionally, the Committee’s final systematic review protocols have been posted online and are organized according to the subcommittee topic areas. The DGA is updated every five years and includes the most recent nutrition research. The final report is used to form Federal nutrition policy and programs, support nutrition education efforts, and guide the promotion of disease prevention initiatives.

Nominations and Confirmations
  • President Trump announced his intent to nominate Roger Beachy to the National Science Board. Beachy served as the first appointed director for USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The Week Ahead

The House and Senate will remain in recess until at least May 4.

A Quick Look Back