The Senate Republicans on Monday released their $1 trillion coronavirus relief package, the "Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act." The package includes another round of $1,200 in direct payments, additional funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, liability protection for businesses, schools and universities, and a reduction in the federal unemployment benefits from the current $600 per week to $200 per week for a 60-day period.
The proposal provides the USDA with an additional $20 billion in funding to support agricultural producers, growers and processors impacted by COVID-19. This is in addition to the $14 billion still available through the Commodity Credit Corp. from the last coronavirus aid package.
The eligible commodities include livestock, dairy, poultry, specialty crops and non-specialty crops. Producers of livestock and poultry "depopulated due to insufficient processing access" will be eligible for payments. In addition, growers who produced livestock and poultry "under a contract for another entity" will be eligible.
Renewable fuels are expected to be eligible under the provision supporting processors. However, it will be up to the USDA.
Concerns have been raised about giving the USDA open-ended authority on how to spend the money. Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and others have said Congress should give guidance and direction to the USDA on how the funds should be spent.
The bill does not include any increase in funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as contained in the House-passed bill. This is a priority of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and of hunger groups. Stabenow is proposing a 15% increase in the maximum SNAP benefit and raising the minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30. This is in the House-passed Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.
Since the release of the package there have been negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) with the White House. There are major differences between the two parties including how much aid is needed, unemployment insurance, aid to state and local governments, liability protection, and spending funds on a new Federal Bureau of Investigation building which is a priority of Trump. It is going to take some time before an agreement is reached.
Trump: 'China deal means less to me'
President Trump continues to increase his attacks on the way China has handled the coronavirus pandemic as cases and deaths increase in the United States and with polls showing the public does not approve of the way he has dealt with the crisis.
Last week during a press conference President Trump repeated his accusations that China allowed COVID-19 to enter the United States and as a result says, "the trade deal means less to me now than it did when I made it."
This increasingly strained relationship between the United States and China has dampened hopes of a round two trade agreement that the administration says was to take place and which U.S. agriculture and the business community were hoping for to address additional trade issues.
Even with increasingly difficult relationships, China has recently been buying significant amounts of corn with the purchase of another 1.937 million metric tons this week.
Safe line speeds
The "Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act" has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) which would stop the USDA from allowing increases in line speeds for meat and poultry packing plants and would end the New Swine Slaughter Inspection program. The legislation was introduced earlier in the House.
The legislation would:
- "Suspend all active waivers issued by the USDA related to line speeds at meat and poultry establishments and suspend the USDA's authority to issue new waivers in this area;
- Suspend implementation of and conversion to the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System established under the USDA's final rule published on Oct. 1, titled "Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection"; and
- Prohibit the USDA from using federal funds to develop, propose, finalize, issue, amend or implement any policy, regulation, directive, constituent update or any other agency program that would increase line speeds at meat and poultry establishments."
House passes FY '21 ag appropriations
Last Friday, the House passed a $259.5 billion appropriations package that included agriculture by a vote of 224-189. An amendment was adopted that prohibits the USDA from using funds to implement President Trump's executive order which gives the USDA the authority to keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate is not expected to consider appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year. Thus, Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government open until after the election.
New House ag committee members
Two new Republicans have been appointed to the House Agriculture Committee. They are Congressmen Chris Jacobs (R-NY) and Troy Balderson (R-OH).