NFU: Congress Passes Stimulus Package, But Trump Threatens Vet
WASHINGTON D.C. – December 24, 2020 – On Monday, following months of negotiations, Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of a spending package that would fund the federal government through September 30, 2021, as well as allocate $900 billion for pandemic relief.
The bill includes a number of measures to assist individuals and businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic, including additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and the extension of federal unemployment insurance of up to $300 per week.
The provision that might hold up the bill, however, is a $600 stimulus check for individuals who earned less than $75,000 in 2019. Whether direct payments should be included in the bill and, if so, how much money should be earmarked for such payments has been a major point of contention between Democratic and Republican lawmakers and administration officials during the negotiation process, with the former pushing for a larger sum and the latter favoring less money or none at all. Ultimately, the two sides came to a compromise with a $600 payment at the recommendation of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin – but not long after the bill was passed, President Donald Trump indicated that he might veto the bill unless Congress increases the value of the checks to $2,000 per person. Many Democratic legislators, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have agreed to the President’s demand, though it is as yet unclear if Republicans will acquiesce.
Should Congress agree to terms that are acceptable to the President and he signs the bill into law, it will provide significant support for farmers, hungry Americans, and rural communities. This includes:
- Support for farmers and ranchers. Growers of row crops that have dropped below a certain price will be eligible for $20 per acre payments, and speciality crop growers who can demonstrate losses due to the pandemic will be able to request financial assistance as well. Furthermore, the bill covers up to 80 percent of losses incurred by livestock producers due to contract changes, market disruptions, or depopulation. For dairy producers, the bill allows for greater coverage under the Dairy Margin Coverage program and apportions $400 million to process dairy and donate it to food banks and other nonprofits. Finally, the bill sets aside funding to strengthen local and regional food systems. For example, it helps smaller meat and poultry processing facilities expand into interstate sales by helping them cover the cost of federal inspection and upgrades. Similarly, it provide $100 million each for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
- Nutrition assistance. The bill increases the maximum monthly benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 15 percent through the end of June. It also designates $400 million for donations to food banks and another $75 million to help low-income consumers purchase fruits and vegetables. Additional funding is allotted to programs that help students, Indigenous communities, and seniors access food.
- Support for biofuels. Under the bill, biofuels refineries would be eligible for direct support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic. Details about how this funding will be structured will be determined and implemented by USDA.
- Broadband expansion. More than $7 billion of the bill’s funding would be directed to broadband expansion, including broadband coverage mapping, interagency coordination and telehealth. The bill also includes provisions to expand broadband on Tribal lands, in rural communities, and for educational institutions that serve socially disadvantaged students.
- Small Business Administration programs. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides grants to cover businesses’ payroll and other costs, would receive $284 billion in additional funding and would be extended through March 31, 2021. Additionally, $20 billion would be set aside for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) emergency grants/advances, which are intended for businesses in low-income communities that employ fewer than 300 people and have suffered an economic loss of at least 30 percent.
- Healthcare. Up to $3 billion would be awarded to health care facilities to cover healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue due to the pandemic. To strengthen mental health care in rural communities, $10 million would be dedicated to the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) and $28 billion would be granted to state departments of agriculture to build out existing farm stress programs.
National Farmers Union (NFU), which has repeatedly urged Congress to provide American families and businesses with pandemic assistance, welcomed the bill’s passage. In particular, NFU President Rob Larew applauded the expansion of SNAP benefits, support for biofuels and regional meat processing infrastructure, and supplementary funding for PPP.
However, if the bill isn’t finalized by January 3, when the 116th Congress wraps up, legislators will have to begin the process all over again, further delaying much-needed relief.