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What's in House's COVID relief bill for agriculture?

TAGS: Regulatory
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Senate set to take up this week the $2 trillion package with $16 billion for ag.

The House advanced its nearly $2 trillion COVID relief package on Friday which includes $5 billion to help farmers of color and $3.6 billion to make the food supply chain more resilient. The bill, H.R. 1319, passed by a vote of 219-212, with two Democrats voting against what Republicans claim was developed through a partisan process.

The estimated $16 billion for agriculture extends the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for three months, provides nutrition assistance for U.S. territories without SNAP, and boosts the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for seniors.

One of the most debated issues within the House Agriculture Committee markup of the bill was the $5 billion tailored to assist Black, Hispanic, Native American and other farmers of color who House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., says “did not proportionately benefit from the tens of billions of dollars of COVID relief paid out to farmers last year.” The provision offers 110% of USDA loan forgiveness to underserved farmers.

This bill also invests $3.6 billion to help us make the food supply chain more resilient, including providing protective equipment for food and agricultural workers. It also provides $500 million for community facilities grants to assist rural communities in the fight against COVID-19. The bill also offsets $100 million in overtime costs for small meat and poultry processors who continue to grapple with COVID-related backlogs.

Related: COVID relief bill includes $16b in farm aid payments

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern says NMPF appreciates the additional $3.6 billion Congress would provide to bolster food supply chains and facilitate additional purchases and donations of dairy and other food products to those who need them most.

“Finally, the package includes important provisions that strengthen resilience and improve equity in rural America and take critical steps to improve the livelihoods of historically underserved farmers, including debt relief and access to credit. These actions will better position all parts of the country to recover from the stresses of the pandemic and strengthen our communities for years to come,” Mulhern says.

Lack of bipartisanship

The bill text underwent some cuts, including a House Agriculture Committee-passed amendment authored by Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, that would have extended WHIP+ to cover 2020 crop losses, including losses due to the derecho and high winds. His amendment received fellow Iowan Democrat Rep. Cindy Axne to vote for the inclusion, but it was stripped out during the House Rules Committee’s consideration of the bill.

Feenstra states: “As the only bipartisan amendment to pass out of any committee, it was the last hope for bipartisanship in the entire reconciliation process. But it’s clear Democrats have never been interested in ‘unity.’”

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson and Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee released a COVID Relief and Recovery Plan ahead of the full House vote to address what they saw as the needs of rural communities that were excluded in the House Democrats’ budget reconciliation package. 

“This proposal is an olive branch to our Democrat colleagues from House Agriculture Republicans,” Thompson says. Many of the provisions they offered they brought as amendments during the House Agriculture Committee markup earlier in February.

Specifically, the House Ag Committee Republicans’ plan offers $2.1 billion for rural hospitals, public safety facilities and schools; $1 billion in support for biofuels producers impacted by the pandemic; $800 million investment to address the urgent need of rural broadband connectivity; requires the Biden administration to unfreeze the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments; and reprioritizes “excessive transportation grant funding for cities and invests in rural America instead.”

Senate action

The Senate is slated to take up a package this week that will vary somewhat from the House-passed measure due to an upper chamber rule, known commonly as the "Byrd Rule.” The final House bill includes a provision raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, even though the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the bill cannot include an increase of the federal minimum wage if Congress uses the budget reconciliation process.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. D-Mich., worked with Scott and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott to secure the food, agriculture, and rural provisions in the bill.

“The House bill includes bold provisions to feed children and families, bolster the food supply chain, address discrimination for farmers of color, and strengthen rural healthcare providers,” says Stabenow. “We need to quickly pass the American Rescue Plan Act to address the urgent challenges facing our farmers, families, and rural communities. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Despite the setback, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., states in a letter to colleagues that the “Senate is on track to send a robust $1.9 trillion package to the President’s desk before the March 14 expiration of Unemployment Insurance benefits.”

 

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