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Administration prepares another multibillion-dollar aid package for agriculture

The USDA aims to release a new version of its coronavirus relief program for farmers and ranchers in the next couple of weeks, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, with at least $14 billion available. President Trump has suggested the new program will boost coronavirus spending on producers to $34 billion this year — a record for farm subsidies.

“We hope that that will be (announced) very shortly after Labor Day,” said Perdue during a teleconference. Roughly 90 commodities are eligible for payments in the ongoing Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), he said, and lobsters will be added — at Trump’s direction — in the new version, which Perdue called CFAP2. “We will be releasing details shortly.”

While farm groups have welcomed the aid, they also have criticized CFAP — which was directed at losses during winter and early spring when the pandemic struck America — as too restrictive in the time frame it covered and unduly stringent with payments, which were limited to $250,000 per person and $750,000 for corporations. Groups such as the National Association of Wheat Growers say aid will be needed for this year’s crops. CFAP was offered for the portion of 2019 production that was not sold before the coronavirus hit.

Of the $16 billion earmarked for agriculture in CFAP, $9.2 billion had been claimed as of Monday.

Most commodity prices plunged as the pandemic disrupted markets and triggered a worldwide economic slowdown. In June, the FAPRI think tank at the University of Missouri said the coronavirus would cause a decline in U.S. farm income this year despite record-large government supports, expected to be a combination of CFAP, trade war aid, and traditional crop subsidies.

The economy is on “a multiyear path to achieve forecast pre-COVID levels,” FAPRI said on Wednesday. Per capita meat consumption would contract in 2021 and 2022. “Economic uncertainty will impede consumer spending for meat and dairy products,” said the think tank.

Perdue has hinted for a couple of weeks that CFAP2 was likely. During a broadcast interview, he said the new package would “even out” USDA aid by looking at losses incurred since April 15.

On Wednesday, Perdue said funding for CFAP2 would include $14 billion that became available to the USDA at midsummer from the $2 trillion CARES Act, passed in March.

A USDA spokesperson was not immediately available to say if money left over from CFAP would be rolled into CFAP2.

Trump pointed to CFAP funding that started at $19 billion, including $3 billion for the first-time food box giveaway, on Monday, and said, “I think it’s going to go probably up to about $34 billion. So our farmers will never be tormented again.” The president, who spoke after visiting a produce packing shed in North Carolina, said he had allocated an additional $1 billion for the food box initiative.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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