Senators Say Package Commits $20 Billion in Additional Support for Agriculture

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., both told The Hagstrom Report the Senate Republican coronavirus aid package now in development contains $20 billion in additional aid for farmers.

“While the text of the legislation is not final yet, as it stands now, there is $20 billion in direct appropriations for agriculture assistance to go along with the $14 billion in CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) authority that became available earlier this month under the CARES Act,” Hoeven said in an email.

Separately, Rounds said he had gotten a piece of paper from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stating there would be $20 billion for agriculture aid. That list of aid details was shared widely on Thursday.

USDA currently has been spending as much as $16.5 billion on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), but USDA does have $14 billion in the Commodity Credit Corp. that became available for the department to use at the beginning of July. Several agricultural industries have been lobbying Congress for more direct aid, including pork producers who want indemnity for euthanizing animals, and the ethanol industry, which has been shut out of direct aid.

Negotiations on legislation stalled in the Senate over several issues, including how to address unemployment benefits as the $600 weekly checks from the federal government are expiring at the end of July. Republican senators also rejected a demand from President Donald Trump for a payroll tax cut. Senators are opting instead to send another round of checks directly to taxpayers. Negotiations appear set to extend more provisions to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program loans as well.

The New York Times reported the latest proposal would allow businesses to apply for a second round of PPP loans. The plan also would give businesses more flexibility in how they could spend the money, but limit some of the businesses that could receive the loans.

According to the Small Business Administration, the PPP has provided $517 billion in loans to 4.9 million businesses. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting businesses are lumped together. Combined, those industries account for 139,729 loans for $7.87 billion, or about 1.5% of total loans. The current PPP is still accepting loan applications through Aug. 8. Farmers can apply for PPP loans even though they may be receiving direct aid through USDA.

The delays push any legislation until at least Monday, the New York Times reported, as Republicans seek to keep the Senate bill in the $1 trillion area, compared to the $3 trillion bill passed by the House in May. “The administration has requested additional time to review the fine details, but we will be laying down this proposal early next week,” the NYT quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. “The sum of these efforts will be a strong, targeted piece of legislation aimed directly at the challenges we face right now.”

In a floor speech, McConnell said the GOP plan would include stimulus checks, aid for schools, money for testing, more funding for small businesses, and liability protections for businesses that would make it hard for employees to sue their employers if they become sick at work, the Washington Post reported. Democrats have opposed the liability waiver.

Trump complained on Twitter that Democrats opposed his payroll tax cut, though even Republicans such as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had said direct checks would get to people quicker than a payroll tax cut could be implemented.

Trump tweeted, “The Democrats have stated strongly that they won’t approve a Payroll Tax Cut (too bad!). It would be great for workers. The Republicans, therefore, didn’t want to ask for it. Dems, as usual, are hurting the working men and women of our Country!”

Still, the key battle line in the bill continues over how to fund unemployment benefits. About 30 million people are unemployed right now, roughly one in five workers. The Washington Post reported the latest Republican proposal would cut the $600 extra weekly benefit down to 70% of wages the workers had been receiving before they lost their jobs. On average, that would cut the benefit down to about $200 a week, on top of their state’s current unemployment benefits. Democrats want to see the $600 extended through January.

Source: Jerry Hagstrom & Chris Clayton, DTN