Lawmakers peppered USDA Undersecretary Ted McKinney with questions about the Trump administration’s new trade relief program for farmers bruised by retaliatory tariffs, and McKinney revealed some new details about the package.
Here’s what we now know:
The bean-counting begins: The $16 billion package is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget, McKinney said at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on trade issues. MA readers will recall that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue blamed OMB’s “bean-counters” – including Director Mick Mulvaney, who is now Trump’s acting chief of staff – for holding up last year’s trade aid for weeks.
Designing the direct aid: McKinney indicated the new payments to farmers could be based on multiple years of production levels. “We have changed how that’s calculated. It’s not just a one-year look back, it’s looking back over several years,” he said at the hearing.
That would fit with USDA’s efforts to avoid influencing farmers’ decisions about which crops to grow. Congress has tried for years to make farm subsidies more market-based by tying them to historical acreage and yields.
Front-loading the farm payments: USDA has said the $14.5 billion in direct aid will be doled out in three batches. The first round will begin by early August, and the other two will follow later this year if trade conditions don’t improve. McKinney said he expects the first tranche “will be heavier because of the immediate need.”
Keeping tabs on last year’s aid: Of the $9.57 billion set aside to reimburse farmers for 2018 production, about $8.57 billion has actually been paid out, USDA told MA. That means there’s $1 billion left on the table, and the deadline for farmers to certify their production numbers to receive payments has already passed.
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