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House chair: USDA coronavirus aid process ‘risks public distrust’

The Trump administration should be more forthcoming on how it decides which commodities qualify for its $16-billion coronavirus relief program, said House Agriculture chairman Collin Peterson. “Without consistent public clarity … the program is at risk of public distrust and other commodities seeking future program eligibility are placed at a disadvantage,” said Peterson in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

In his letter, Peterson also said the coronavirus program, by focusing on commodity price declines from January 15 through April 15, missed the long-running impact of the pandemic, “with losses for many commodities extending well into the second and third quarters of this year.”

When it set up the program, the USDA set an eligibility threshold for a nationwide price decline of at least 5% during the early months of the year. It also has said it would consider additional significant marketing costs, said Peterson.

“Unfortunately, USDA did not consistently indicate how or why some commenter data was acceptable and others were not,” wrote the chairman, referring to efforts by some producers to qualify for aid. The USDA allowed subnational price data to be used for some commodities, such as apples, but not for others, such as turkeys, said Peterson. “Hundreds of commodities were denied [coronavirus] eligibility for ‘insufficient data’ and ‘lack of information,’ though it would seem that the well documented shutdown of school meals, restaurants, and food service demand would have impacted those food crops, and the loss of export, landscape, and retail markets for the nonfood crops (e.g., Pima cotton) and livestock/poultry.”

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