USDA announces $12 billion in pandemic aid, aims for ‘a broader set of producers’

There also would be payments of $20 an acre for many row crops from corn, soybeans, and wheat to hemp and safflower, with a price tag of $4.5 billion.

Following through on pledges of more equitable aid to agriculture, the Biden administration has created a new Pandemic Assistance for Producers program to distribute more than $12 billion in cash. It said on Wednesday that it wants to “reach a broader set of producers” than in previous COVID-19 aid programs.

The new round of assistance, the third since the pandemic was declared a health emergency in the United States a year ago, will include at least $6 billion to aid fruit and vegetable growers, beginning farmers, and organic farms; donate dairy products to charities; buy personal protective equipment for food and farm workers; and support biofuel producers.

There also would be payments of $20 an acre for many row crops, from corn, soybeans, and wheat to hemp and safflower, with a price tag of $4.5 billion. An increase in payment rates would send an additional $1.1 billion to cattle producers.

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our new USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative will help get financial assistance to a broader set of producers, including to socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium-size producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.”

Most of the nearly $24 billion in coronavirus aid during the Trump administration was funneled toward big farmers and major commodities. White farmers collected almost 97% of the cash in the first round, said the Environmental Working Group, based on a review of USDA data. Advocates for small farmers and producers who sell their crops and livestock locally also said they had been given short shrift.

Along with dedicating at least $6 billion to new forms of coronavirus relief, the USDA said it would put a greater emphasis on reaching out to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, and timber harvesters, among others.

“We appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s action to release funds and expand eligibility for farmers hit hard by the devastating effects of COVID-19,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “USDA’s decision to distribute aid based on previous applications will help deliver assistance quickly.”

While the USDA said it would issue additional payments based on applications already on file, it also said it would accept new applications for the so-called CFAP2, the second round of pandemic relief, beginning on April 5 for at least 60 days as part of outreach to underserved farmers and ranchers. Vilsack said a review of earlier coronavirus programs found gaps and disparities in how aid was distributed and inadequate outreach to producers.

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree said the Pandemic Assistance for Producers program “will create a more equitable and accessible set of financial supports for local producers” in her home state. “I have been pushing since the earliest days of the pandemic for small farms to be supported through the duration of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.

Funding for the new payments came from the $900 billion relief bill enacted at the end of 2020.

Two weeks ago, Congress passed the Biden-backed $1.9 trillion coronavirus package that includes $4 billion in debt relief for minority farmers and $1 billion to improve access to land, resolve “heirs property” issues, and provide legal aid to socially disadvantaged farmers. It also includes $3.6 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 healthcare, 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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