Action Alert: Congressional Agriculture/Food Relief Legislation

Author(s): 
Chrys Ostrander

Sample messages below.

Congressional Agriculture Relief News from Politico: There’s momentum in Congress to expand the borrowing authority of USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, the Depression-era agency that’s funding part of the department’s stimulus payments to farmers and ranchers (and that’s facilitated the Trump administration’s trade bailout program since 2018). It’s one of the primary funding options on the table as lawmakers consider more agricultural aid in their next coronavirus response package.

A House bill introduced on Tuesday, backed by Reps. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), a senior House Ag member, and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), who chairs the House Appropriations panel that oversees USDA’s budget, would lift the CCC’s annual borrowing cap from $30 billion to $68 billion — effectively catching up to inflation since the limit was last adjusted in 1987.

https://austinscott.house.gov/sites/austinscott.house.gov/files/SCOTAU_026_xml.pdf

What it means: The proposal would essentially give USDA a green light to send far more money to struggling producers who are rapidly losing money, euthanizing livestock and destroying perishable goods because of unprecedented market disruption.

Congress has scrambled for new ideas to address the shortfalls in its initial efforts to save the farm economy. Flooding farmers with extra cash could go a long way to resolving debates over how to divvy up limited resources from the government.

Scott said his legislation would help mitigate long-term damage to the food supply chain and insulate annual farm bill programs that are also paid through the CCC.

Targets and trade-offs: Congress in March considered hiking the agency’s borrowing limit to $50 billion. But if such a boost is back on the table, Democrats could again demand a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in exchange.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/23/food-stamps-farm-aid-stall-senate-145293

John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Bishop’s counterpart in the Senate, who has played a key role in shaping the agricultural aid plans, told reporters last week that he’s in favor of shooting for the $50 billion mark (or higher) in the next stimulus package.

More aid asks: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is pressing USDA to include egg producers in its $19 billion aid package and to consider directly buying and redistributing liquid egg products.

https://www.ernst.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/9bc03a14-1295-4006-b1da-f6b750ba2998/6A20FDD84DD8B71968D1FBA35B398387.2020.05.05-egg-producers-letter-to-perdue-final.pdf

HOW TO GET FOOD BANKS BUY DIRECTLY FROM FARMS: Gillibrand on Tuesday introduced a bill that would dole out $8 billion in block grants to the top specialty crop states so their food banks can connect with the excess supply of produce in their area.

The money would be used to cover the cost of food as a way to help farmers with lost markets, as well as to cover the cost of logistics, including distribution, processing, and additional staff needed at food banks, according to the New York Democrat’s office. “I think this is something that USDA will support,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

More money for produce in WIC: The United Fresh Produce Association said this week it expects the next aid package will likely include a provision to allow states to boost cash vouchers for fruit and vegetable purchases in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children through the end of September.

The move would bump the monthly voucher to $35 per month. Currently, women receive $11 per month and children receive $9 per month in vouchers in the program. That could translate to an additional $120 million a month in WIC produce purchases, the group said.

People should contact their congressional representatives to weigh in on these proposals. Here are some brief messages to use. Send one at a time via email or your delegation's website contact forms, or mention all of them if you make a phone call.

1) To your US Representatives:

Please support a House bill introduced on Tuesday, backed by Reps. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), a senior House Ag member, and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), who chairs the House Appropriations panel that oversees USDA’s budget, would lift the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation’s annual borrowing cap from $30 billion to $68 billion.

2) To all of them:

Please work for passage of a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

3) To your US Senators:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday introduced a bill that would distribute $8 billion in block grants to the top specialty crop states (including Washington) so their food banks can connect with the excess supply of produce in their area. The money would be used to cover the cost of food as a way to help farmers with lost markets, as well as to cover the cost of logistics, including distribution, processing, and additional staff needed at food banks. Please seek passage of this bill.

4) To all of them:

Please pass legislation to allow states to boost cash vouchers for fruit and vegetable purchases in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) through the end of September to $35 per month.

Edition: 
May 2020