Legislative Watch: Coronavirus stimulus package coming; USDA makes improper payments; more Chinese Phase One steps; seeking FMD and MAP support; Peterson running again.

P. Scott Shearer, Vice President

March 13, 2020

4 Min Read
Illustration of the United States with coronavirus banner
Getty Images/iStockphoto

With the World Health Organization declaring coronavirus a world pandemic, the increasing number of cases in the United States, the freefall of the stock market and the serious effect on the economy, negotiations between the House Democrats and the administration are close to reaching an agreement on a coronavirus stimulus package, the "Families First Coronavirus Response Act." The legislation will address paid sick leave, free testing, food aid and unemployment insurance.

Key provisions include free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, 14 days of paid sick leave, and up to three months of paid family and medical leave. There is concern that employees currently not covered by paid sick leave would continue to work when not feeling well. The bill provides increased federal funds for Medicaid to help states face increasing costs.

The bill is expected to include over $1 billion in food security assistance covering SNAP, student meals, seniors' nutrition and food banks. As more schools are closing, there is a need to provide meals through the school lunch program for students whose schools have closed because of coronavirus. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue testified before Congress on USDA's efforts.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) plans for the House to vote on the legislation today if an agreement is reached with the administration. If there is no agreement, she plans for the House to vote on the original Democratic legislation. The Senate cancelled their recess next week to deal with the House legislation.

President Trump addressed the nation trying to assure the markets and the public about the administration's response to the coronavirus crisis. He announced emergency actions being taken by the administration including a ban on foreign nationals coming to the United States from many European countries. He also called on Congress to pass a cut in the payroll tax to help with the economy during the crisis which has not been met with much support on the Hill. The Dow the next day dropped 10%, the worst percentage drop since the crash of 1987.

USDA makes improper payments
The Government Accountability Office's latest report on improper payments by federal agencies found that USDA made $6.7 billion in improper payments in 2019. These payments were incorrect amounts or should not have been made.

USDA's improper payments cited include $612 million through Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage; $282.5 million in crop insurance; $42.5 million in crop disaster assistance; approximately $4 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; $1.1 billion in the school lunch program; and $461 million for the school breakfast program. Crop disaster assistance had the highest rate of improper payments as a percentage of the program's total payments.

The GAO report found that federal agencies in 2019 made $175 billion in improper payments.

USDA and USTR announce additional steps by China
USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative announced that China has taken additional steps in implementing the U.S.-China Phase One Trade deal. The latest action by China include:

  • Signing a protocol that allows the importation of fresh California nectarines (USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will share details once they are finalized);

  • Conditionally lifting a ban on imports of beef and beef products from animals over 30 months of age (Lifting Restriction on U.S. Beef 30 Months and Over Announcement), subject to other relevant import requirements;

  • Updating lists of facilities approved for exporting dairy, infant formula, seafood, and fish oil and fish meal.

Ag coalition supports FMD and MAP
Over 100 national and state agricultural organizations are asking Congress to fully fund the Foreign Market Development Program and the Market Access Program for fiscal year 2021.

In a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees, the coalition says, "American farmers and the food, fiber and fuel they produce need continued investment in the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program. This past year has highlighted that need as our groups have rushed to recover from tariff escalation and reestablish commercial ties with our most-valued overseas customers."

A 2016 econometric study of export demand showed that MAP and FMD generated a remarkable return on investment of $28.30 in export gains for every additional $1 spent on foreign market development between 1977 and 2014. In addition, the study shows the programs are responsible for 15% of total agricultural export revenue, equal to $309 billion, since 1977.

Peterson running again
Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, announces he is running for re-election. Peterson has been key in passing a number of recent farm bills and is a major voice on agricultural policy in Congress.

There was concern in the agricultural community that he would be retiring. Peterson has been serving Minnesota's 7th congressional district since 1991. He has been chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture since 2019, previously holding the office from 2007-11.

Source: P. Scott Shearer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

About the Author(s)

P. Scott Shearer

Vice President, Bockorny Group, Inc.

Scott Shearer is vice president of the Bockorny Group Inc., a leading bipartisan government affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C. With more than 30 years experience in government and corporate relations in state and national arenas, he is recognized as a leader in agricultural trade issues, having served as co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for U.S.-China Trade and co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for Trade Promotion Authority. Scott was instrumental in the passage of China Permanent Normal Trade Relations and TPA. He is past chairman of the USDA-USTR Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products and was a member of the USAID Food Security Advisory Committee. Prior to joining the Bockorny Group, Scott served as director of national relations for Farmland Industries Inc., as well as USDA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs (1993-96), serving as liaison for the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to Congress.

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