House HEROES Act
On May 15, the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act). This $3 trillion coronavirus relief measure includes state and local direct aid, hazard pay for essential workers, direct payments to individuals, housing and rental assistance, and numerous other proposals. The measure includes a number of agriculture provisions including $16.5 billion in direct payments to farmers for losses to COVID-19, $500 million for a dairy donation program, and a number of changes to nutrition programs. The measure passed the House on a near party-line vote. The Senate is not expected to consider the House bill, and it is not clear when or if the next COVID relief package could make its way to the President. Should Congress come to agreement on an additional relief package in July, the Trump Administration has signaled support for payroll tax reductions to be included. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated a package must include liability protections for businesses that have stayed open or re-opened during the pandemic.
USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program
On May 19, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced parameters for $16 billion in direct payment assistance through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for livestock, dairy, fruit, vegetable, grain and other producers whose markets have been disrupted or lost due to the COVID-19 health emergency. The assistance is available to agriculture commodity producers who have suffered a five-percent or greater price decline due to COVID-19 and face additional significant marketing costs as a result of lower demand surplus production, and disruptions to shipping patterns and the orderly marketing of commodities.
USDA will accept CFAP applications through August 28, 2020. Interested producers should apply through their local Farm Service Agency. USDA reports that as of mid-June, the Farm Service Agency has processed more than $2.8 billion in payments to more than 220,000 producers. Funding for the CFAP program comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act and the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act.
Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee have encouraged the Administration to make changes to CFAP.
USDA Nutrition Programs
On June 10, Secretary Perdue announced actions taken to allow children in all areas to receive free meals through USDA’s summer meals programs. Ordinarily these summer nutrition initiatives are limited to low income areas. USDA has taken a number of steps to ensure children have access to nutrition programs during the pandemic including providing flexibility to child nutrition operators to provide delivery and pick-up options in support of social distancing.
Trump Administration Trade Policy
On June 17, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to discuss the Trump Administration’s 2020 trade policy agenda. On June 12 USTR Lighthizer announced that Dr. Julie Callahan Julie Callahan will serve as Assistant US Trade Representative for Agriculture Affairs. Callahan has been filling this role in an acting capacity since the April retirement of Sharon Bomer Lauritsen.