This week, March 24th, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs. USDA is dedicating at least $6 billion toward the new programs. The Department will also develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, timber harvesters, as well as provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel, among others. Existing programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers.

USDA will reopen sign-up for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning on April 5, 2021. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has committed at least $2.5 million to improve outreach for CFAP 2 and will establish partnerships with organizations with strong connections to socially disadvantaged communities to ensure they are informed and aware of the application process.

The payments announced today under Part 3 will go out under the existing CFAP rules; however, future opportunities for USDA Pandemic Assistance will be reviewed for verified need and during the rulemaking process, USDA will look to make eligibility more consistent with the Farm Bill. Moving forward, USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers will utilize existing programs, such as the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach, and Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and others to enhance educational and market opportunities for agricultural producers.

PAYGO Sequestration

U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, warned again this week that the mandatory spending cuts that will result from the Democrats’ $1.9T reconciliation package should give pause to the idea of using the same process to further increase deficit spending to address climate change.  Boozman expressed concern earlier here.  The use of the budget reconciliation process risks triggering billions of dollars in automatic spending reductions under statutory pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules. Unless federal law is changed, PAYGO will zero out virtually all farm program spending over the next five years.  Although the House has passed legislation to address potential PAYGO cuts, the bill would need to reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.