USDA gives few new clues on farm aid


By Helena Bottemiller Evich, POLITICO



With help from Ryan McCrimmon and Ximena Bustillo


USDA GIVES FEW NEW CLUES ON FARM AID: The department hosted a webinar on Thursday for ag producers to learn more about applying for its $16 billion direct aid program. Given the massive interest among farmers and ranchers who are throwing out crops and euthanizing livestock, attendance on the Zoom call hit maximum capacity.


But the webinar lasted less than 15 minutes and offered little new information. USDA officials largely ticked through a list of forms that applicants will need to fill out and took just four questions submitted by farmers.


No new deets: Asked which commodities and livestock are eligible for reimbursement, officials said only that the program is open to producers of all sizes who suffer an eligible loss, meaning a price decline of at least 5 percent since January. More details will be revealed once the aid package is approved by White House budget officials and published in the Federal Register.


Ag Twitter not impressed: The brief session left farmers scratching their heads and grousing about the lack of new information. As one industry member put it, USDA is guarding details of the program “like it’s the nuclear football.”


What’s missing? It’s still unknown exactly which farmers are eligible for aid. The department has earmarked portions of the aid for specific hard-hit sectors, like cattle and hog farmers, while others will have to demonstrate market damage to qualify.


Also, USDA has already made some changes to the program since it was announced in mid-April — but hasn’t yet spelled out the new rules. For one, Secretary Sonny Perdue said the department is loosening limits on the size of relief checks following pushback from Congress.


LATEST COVID RESPONSE HEADS TO THE HOUSE FLOOR: The chamber is expected to pass the sweeping $3 trillion coronavirus aid package, H.R. 6800 (116), today that includes a major increase to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, more aid for farmers and new farmworker protections.


The package, likely to move on party lines, is considered House Democrats’ opening offer in negotiations over the next iteration of aid amid the ongoing pandemic, and there's a whole lot of sunlight between Democrats’ and Republicans’ wish lists. More on that from our Congress team.


Ag groups have so far been fairly low-key about the legislation, though major dairy groups on Thursday publicly praised the bill’s inclusion of a significant dairy recourse loan program. Pork industry groups are also pleased that the package includes compensation for producers who are forced to euthanize their animals due to processing disruptions.


Farmworker advocates urged support for the latest package because it would include sick pay for companies of all sizes, hazard pay for all essential workers, including farm workers, as well as protection from deportation. The bill would also mandate that OSHA come up with emergency worker protections for farmworkers.


Concerns about Covid-19, meanwhile, are sparking unrest among farmworkers. Protests are flaring up in fruit-picking areas as laborers cite inadequate personal protective equipment and seek hazard pay. In Washington, farmworkers are increasingly organizing demonstrations. Workers have staged walk outs at four farms this week in Yakima County, a major fruit-growing region in the state. Organizers expect at least six more fruit warehouses will be on strike.


Relying on best practices:


more, including links