Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 4.6

Monday, April 6th, 2020


April 6, 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

Big Picture Outlook

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– Since passing the CARES Act, Congress is discussing a “phase four” stimulus bill that is likely to resemble the “phase three” package. Speaker Pelosi said on Friday, “Let’s do the same bill we just did [and] make some changes to make it current,” which is a dramatic shift from previously proposed plans to address infrastructure and clean water needs in “phase four.” A vote on the bill is not likely for at least another month, as Congress has recessed until April 20.

Administration Update– The CARES Act is now in the hand of federal agencies, who are responsible for implementing the stimulus package’s provisions. The largest portion of agriculture relief in the CARES Act allocates $14 billion to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which has been the funding source for Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments. Before the coronavirus crisis, some farm policy experts anticipated another round of MFP. Now, however, some experts believe farmer relief may take an entirely new form. USDA is tasked with distributing an additional $9.5 billion in aid to the agriculture sector, primarily by allocating funds through disaster assistance for specialty crops, livestock, dairy, and farmers markets.

The CARES Act also authorized the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans to small businesses, including agricultural producers. SBA will forgive the loans if business owners follow the terms of the program, using funds towards payroll, benefits, rent, and utilities. The CARES Act also issued the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which offers additional assistance to small businesses through SBA. However, the agency has indicated they would exclude agricultural operations from the loan program, despite the text of the bill alluding to their inclusion. In a letter sent to SBA Administrator Carranza, Senate Agriculture Committee leadership urged the agency to include agricultural operations in the EIDL program, stating that Congress originally intended for farms to qualify if they met eligibility criteria. The letter also requests more flexibility for agricultural operations within the PPP guidelines.

Industry Update– A group of food and beverage manufacturing organizations wrote to state, county, and city health officials, asking them to give their workers priority coronavirus testing, after the healthcare workers and first responders. The letter says consumer packaged goods and retail industry serve a critical function in providing products to consumers during this public health crisis. American Bakers Association, North American Millers Association, and American Beverage Association are among the 17 groups that signed the letter.

Animal Drug Industry Included in CARES Act– A law firm recently reviewed provisions in the CARES Act that may impact the animal drug industry. One of the provisions discussed is a section of the bill that created a new program intended to fast track the designation, development, and review of applications for new animal drugs, “where preliminary clinical data shows the drug’s potential to prevent or treat animal zoonotic diseases, including vector-borne diseases, that may cause serious health consequences, or serious or life-threatening diseases, in humans.” It remains unclear how quickly the Food and Drug Administration would be able to implement the program.

Food Dumping Issues Loom Over the Industry– As farmers markets and restaurants close due to the ongoing public health crisis, some farmers have turned to throwing away their fresh produce and dairy products. Dairy producers are particularly impacted by the closures, as roughly half of the cheese produced in the US goes to supply the food service sector. Edge Dairy farmer, Gordon Speirs, says, “We’ve lost 25 percent of our income just through the crashed market. Now we face the reality of having to dump milk on top of that.” As a solution, the industry is asking the government to buy more products and redistribute these items through food banks and the modified school feeding programs.

Groups Request Research Funding for FY2021 Appropriations– Fifty agricultural organizations requested an increase in the Agriculture appropriations bill for the FY2021 budget in a letter to Senate and House Appropriations Committees last week. The letter posits that “strong funding for the Agriculture appropriations bill, including in particular its research, education, extension, and economics programs, is a critical step toward meeting the [USDA] Innovation Agenda goal.” American Soybean Association and the Board on Agriculture Assembly for the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities are among the organizations that signed the letter.

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

A Quick Look Back