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Third round of pandemic payments begins to flow to farmers and ranchers

The Biden administration has begun sending pandemic payments of more than $5.6 billion to cattle and crop producers, opening the third round of coronavirus relief to farmers and ranchers in 10 months, said a USDA spokesman on Monday. The USDA, trying to reach minority farmers and others left out of previous aid programs, said producers can apply until June.

The USDA is offering $2 million to grassroots organizations and public institutions to encourage socially disadvantaged farmers to enroll in USDA programs. “We know that we need partners to make that happen,” said Zach Ducheneaux, head of the Farm Service Administration.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said two weeks ago that the USDA wanted to reach “a broader set of producers,” including minority farmers, small and medium-size producers, and farmers who grow “less traditional crops.” A review found gaps and disparities in how aid was distributed in the first two rounds in 2020, he said.

The USDA said it would dedicate at least $6 billion in a new Pandemic Assistance for Producers program for aid to fruit and vegetable growers, beginning farmers, and organic farms; donation of dairy products to charity; purchases of personal protective equipment for food and farm workers; and support for biofuel producers. The assistance would consume roughly half of the funds approved for agriculture by Congress at the end of 2020.

Lawmakers also earmarked around $5.6 billion in “bump up” payments to cattle producers and in $20-an-acre payments on crops ranging from corn, soybeans, and wheat to hemp, safflower, and sugar beets. “Those payments began on Friday and continue,” said USDA spokesman Matt Herrick. Some 410,000 cattle producers would get more than $1.1 billion and 560,000 crop growers more than $4.5 billion, estimated the USDA.

While some payments will be based on applications already in USDA’s hands, producers can submit new applications or modifications to existing applications under the so-called CFAP2 program, the second round of pandemic relief, for at least 60 days, which would be June 4 or later.

As of Monday, $23.8 billion was disbursed to farmers and ranchers since payments began in May 2020. The largest payments went to cattle, nearly $7.2 billion, and corn, $5.1 billion. The top states for payments were Iowa, $2.1 billion, followed by California with $1.9 billion, and Nebraska, $1.6 billion. Payments went mostly to large farmers, who are overwhelmingly white.

The administration-backed $1.9 trillion coronavirus package passed by Congress last month included $4 billion in debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers, which include Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian-American producers, and $1 billion to improve access to land, resolve heirs’ property issues, and provide legal aid to socially disadvantaged farmers. It also allotted $36 billion for food donations and to protect food system workers from COVID-19, $1 billion in nutrition assistance for U.S. territories, $500 million for rural health care, and a three-month extension of the temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits.

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