The Agriculture Department could replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation with up to $14 billion for net realized losses under a compromise brokered in the Senate economic stimulus bill released Wednesday.
An earlier version of the appropriations package in the bill would have given the department borrowing authority up to $50 billion — a $20 billion increase over the current borrowing limit from the Treasury Department.
The bill is awaiting a vote Wednesday in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House is determining how to proceed on the legislation.
The increase in borrowing authority raised concerns among some Senate Democrats because the Trump administration tapped the Commodity Credit Corporation for a total of nearly $23 billion in trade aid payments in 2018 and 2019. Critics say the payment distribution favored large farmers.
On Monday, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the top Senate Appropriations Committee Democrat, said he was concerned about the $20 billion increase in borrowing authority and said President Donald Trump’s use of the Commodity Credit Corporation for the trade aid payment had been a political move to help his farm base.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted on the Senate floor that cherry growers in her state of Michigan had not received payments although they’ve been hurt by trade practices by Turkey.
The compromise bill would provide $9.5 billion for the USDA to address the economic effects of a COVID-19 downturn on sectors of agriculture ranging from livestock producers dealing with volatile markets to farmers who are losing business as states and localities close farmers markets and restaurants.
National Pork Producers Council President Howard "A.V." Roth welcomed the funding, saying COVID-19 disruptions were adding to existing financial pressures on pork producers caused by trade fights between the United States and trading partners.
“These new financial setbacks come on the heels of two very difficult years during which pork was at the tip of the trade retaliation spear. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to make sure that all pork producers can access this critically important lifeline as we remain committed to keeping food on American tables,” Roth said in a statement.
Eric Deeble, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said because of the “ongoing COVID-19 crisis and 'social distancing' restrictions, we expect farmers who have lost access to direct markets — like farmers markets, schools, and restaurants — stand to lose more than $1 billion in sales this year.”
Deeble, in a statement, said the Senate bill represents a first step and that his organization “will be looking to USDA to make sure any funding Congress provides reaches the farmers who need it most.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, would receive $15.8 billion with $15.5 billion of it slated for a contingency fund to cover food costs and any surge in enrollment fueled by an expected increase in unemployment because of layoffs and business closures. The remaining $300 million would provide grants of $100 million for food distribution on Indian reservations and $200 million for nutrition programs in the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and American Samoa.
The Senate stimulus bill also includes:
- $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs, including the school lunch program.
- $450 million for commodity food purchases for emergency food assistance through food banks and other nonprofit groups.
- $100 million for continuing a pilot project to expand broadband service to rural communities.
- $4 million for the Foreign Agricultural Service, which promotes and develops export markets for U.S. farm goods, to cover costs of moving overseas employees and their families back to the United States.
- $33 million for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to hire temporary and part-time workers and to cover relocation costs for temporary inspectors.
- $20.5 million for a subsidy that will allow $1 billion in lending authority for the Business and Industry loan guarantee program for rural businesses.
- $3 million for the Farm Service Agency to hire temporary staff and pay overtime costs.