Senate COVID-19 relief bill provides $20 billion to USDA

Senate COVID-19 relief bill provides $20 billion to USDA

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Funding would support ag producers, growers and processors affected by pandemic

A new coronavirus (COVID-19) aid proposal by the U.S. Senate would provide more than US$20 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to spend as Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sees fit.

In addition to the US$20 billion in additional funding to the USDA to support agricultural producers, growers and processors affected by COVID-19, the Farm Service Agency, Office of Rural Development, Food and Nutrition Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection program would also receive funding as follows, according to a summary of the bill by the Senate Appropriations Committe:

  • Farm Service Agency: US$76.4 million. The proposal provides additional funding to support temporary staff and overtime costs resulting from increased volume of applications in response to COVID-19.
  • Rural Development: US$133.4 million
    • Salaries and expenses: US$20 million. The proposal provides for administrative expenses such as overtime and information technology needs.
    • Rental assistance program: US$113.4 million. The proposal provides rental assistance to all currently assisted wage-earning residents if they lost all wages and were unable to pay rent.
  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS): US$250,000. The proposal provides additional funding to cover the cost of staff overtime for FNS employees.
  • Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS): US$2 million. The proposal provides additional funding to cover the cost of repatriating FAS employees stationed abroad.
  • Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection: US$245 million. The proposal provides additional funding to cover salary expenses to offset the decrease in user fee revenue caused by business disruptions.

The bill, known as Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act was introduced by Senate Republicans on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that he hoped his party would work with Democrats to quickly pass the legislation. However, there are several points of contention in the bill that must be resolved.

Agriculture groups, including the National Pork Producers Council, say their producers need more financial support from the government to overcome challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said in a statement Tuesday that the additional $20 billion for agriculture in the HEALS Act would come at a critical time as the impact of this pandemic continues to hit our farms and rural communities.

“America’s farmers and ranchers and the men and women who work alongside us have answered the call as an essential industry in keeping our nation’s food supply secure,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in the statement. “Farmers and ranchers have faced difficult decisions and shown great ingenuity and perseverance to keep their farms running, all while being met with steep challenges as markets and supply chains rapidly react to unprecedented changes.”

View our continuing coverage of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.