CFAP Application Deadline Extended, Eligibility Expanded

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) provides financial assistance to agricultural commodity producers who have suffered a five-percent or greater price decline or had losses due to market supply chain disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On August 11, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the deadline to apply for CFAP has been extended to September 11.  The original application deadline was August 28.

USDA has made two announcements in the last several weeks regarding commodity eligibility under the program including a July 9 announcement of 40 additional specialty crops and an August 11 announcement of additional eligible commodities including nursery crops and cut flowers, aquaculture, and certain types of eggs.

Federal Coronavirus Relief Package Stalled

Congress adjourned in early August for its traditional summer recess without coming to agreement on further COVID-19 relief measures as several federal CARES Act pandemic economic relief provisions for individuals and businesses expired including the small business Paycheck Protection Program, a federal eviction moratorium, and the $600 weekly federal unemployment supplemental benefit payments.

The failure of negotiations between Trump Administration officials and Congressional leaders in late July and early August highlights the differences between the parties on relief priorities and spending levels.  House Democrats are seeking a package with many components of the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) passed by the House in May which includes state and local direct aid, hazard pay for essential workers, direct payments to individuals, housing and rental assistance, and a number of agriculture provisions.  On July 27, Senate Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion HEALS Act proposal which includes pandemic liability protection for businesses as well as more than $20 billion in funding for agricultural producers and farm programs.  In mid-August Senate Republicans released a second, smaller stimulus proposal.

In early August President Trump signed multiple Executive Orders on payroll tax suspension, eviction bans, student loan payment relief, and unemployment assistance.  These matters are typically handled via statutes passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, so there may be court challenges in addition to next steps from Congress.  It remains to be seen whether Congress and the Administration will be able to come to an agreement in September.  When they return they will be pressed to deal with not only the relief package, but also ensuring the federal government is funded beyond the September 30 fiscal year deadline.

The House briefly reconvened on August 22 to pass a $25 billion bill intended to ensure the US Postal Service has the necessary resources to maintain sufficient service levels as the pandemic continues and the 2020 election approaches.  While the negotiations on the next COVID relief package continue to be difficult, there is bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for further agriculture relief – making agriculture support likely to be included should an agreement on another broad pandemic relief package come together in the coming weeks.

The Senate is currently scheduled to return to Washington on September 8 while the House is set to reconvene on September 14.

USDA Loan Program Legislation

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced by Representative Cindy Axne (D-IA) and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to provide relief for USDA loan program customers.  Similar to the six months of borrower payment relief provided for certain Small Business Administration (SBA) loans under the CARES Act, the “Rural Equal Aid Act” would make six months of payments for rural small businesses and nonprofits using the Community Facilities Loan Programs, Business and Industry Loan Programs, the Intermediary Relending Program, and the Microentrepreneur Assistance Program.  The bill sponsors hope to have their proposal considered as Congress tries to negotiate the next COVID relief package.