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Senate relief bill has help for ag companies

The United States Senate passed a $2 trillion emergency bill the night of March 25, and the House of Representatives is expected to pass it Friday.

Agriculture looks to have a significant piece of it.

In a message to members last night, United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458 president and CEO Tom Stenzel said his group pushed Congress and USDA to support emergency market stabilization and recovery programs for the produce industry, and the following is in the legislation:

• Emergency COVID-19 Funding — $9.5 billion under emergency declaration to support agriculture industries impacted by COVID-19, including fruit and vegetable producers, livestock producers, and producers focused on local food systems.

• Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) — $14 billion to replenish the CCC borrowing authority. Along with current CCC funding, which is at $8.5 billion, this would allow USDA to utilize up to $22.5 billion in CCC related activities, such as Market Facilitation Payments and directing funds to Section 32 for produce purchases.

• Child Nutrition Programs –$8.8 billion of broad authority to USDA to support programs like school meals, Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP), summer meals, and WIC, including increasing enrollment, food purchases and pilot projects.

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — $15.5 billion to cover increase in participation due to unemployment.

• The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) – $450 million for the distribution of emergency food assistance through community partners, including food banks. Of this amount, $250 million is to purchase commodities, and $150 million is for costs associated with storing and distributing those commodities.

• Small Business Paycheck Protection Program — $350 billion for new SBA Loan Program for businesses with no more than 500 employees. If business has more than one location, allows for each location to have no more than 500 employees. Loans can be used for the following: payroll and benefits; mortgage interest payments (excluding principal and excluding pre-payments); rent; utilities; and interest payment on other debts.

• Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) — $562 million in additional funding for EIDL available to businesses with no more than 500 employees, including emergency grants up to $10,000 to cover emergency expenses directly related to COVID-19, such as paid sick leave for employees directly affected by COVID-19, payroll to retain employees during business disruptions or substantial slowdowns, meeting increased costs to supply the supply chain, and paying obligations that cannot be met due to lost revenue.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president, public policy for United Fresh, said March 26, that it’s not yet clear how quickly relief will arrive for troubled produce companies.

“We are going to push USDA as fast as we can to start implementing at least some of the actions we have requested,” he said.

Richard Owen, Vice President, Global Membership & Engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, BB #:153708 said the ag implementation rules are still being written.

“But some provisions, such as access to loans, would be accessible almost immediately after the President signs it,” he said March 26.

He said in the short term, here’s what will benefit the produce industry most:

• Loans to industries and small business loans
• Funding for expanding SNAP and child nutrition programs
• Additional commodity food purchases for emergency food assistance
• Retaining payroll (tax credit for keeping idled workers on their payrolls during pandemic)
• Relief for farmers and ranchers in the $9.5 billion for emergency aid to farmers, ranchers and fresh fruit and vegetable growers.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 96-0. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, told reporters March 25 that she expects the House to debate the bill tomorrow, which is different from her previous statements about planning to pass it by unanimous consent.

As many House members are back in their home districts and wouldn’t be present for a vote, the House is likely to use a voice vote procedure to pass the bill.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services