Disadvantaged Farmers At Center Of House Committee Ag Relief Bill

Tray Ling

Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., heads the House Agriculture Committee (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via … [+] AP, Pool) ASSOCIATED PRESS The $1.9 trillion relief package making its way through the House of Representatives has approximately $16.1 billion earmarked for agriculture and the two centerpieces of the bill include $12 billion […]

The $1.9 trillion relief package making its way through the House of Representatives has approximately $16.1 billion earmarked for agriculture and the two centerpieces of the bill include $12 billion for food-aid benefits and a landmark $4 billion program of debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers.

“The passage of the Agriculture Committee’s provisions gets us one step closer to feeding the hungry, supplying COVID-19 vaccinations to our rural communities, seeking equitable solutions for Black farmers and other farmers of color, and supporting our food and ag sector supply chains,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-Ga) in a release. “I look forward to seeing the final passage of the full bill on the House floor soon.”

Passed among a 25-23 party-line vote, the funding includes a 15% increase in weekly benefits through the end of September under USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the lower-incomed and those out of work. That total also facilitates the distribution of vaccines to rural health care providers and helping small-scale meat processors by offsetting the cost of overtime inspection, provide farm loan assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and award funding to minority-serving institutions.

“This package includes a number of meaningful food and agricultural provisions that will help alleviate food insecurity, ensure the health and safety of food chain workers, expedite vaccinations in rural communities, lift up historically underserved farmers, and build resilience in the food system,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) President Rob Larew. “Individually, these objectives are certainly worthwhile, and collectively they will bring us several steps closer to a full recovery.”

An allocation of $4 billion would be set aside to assist farmers of color wherein the government would pay off USDA loans and USDA-guaranteed loans held and give an additional 20% — 120% in total funding — to the producers to cover income taxes associated with the debt relief. Currently, the number of Black farmers represent just 1% of all producers.

One billion in aid would be allocated to community-based organizations and minority-serving institutions that work with Black, indigenous and other farmers of color on issues such as access to land and financial training. That includes forming an equity commission and a legal center which would provide advice for minority producers.

The bill includes $3.6 billion to purchase agricultural commodities and support their delivery to families through non-profits, emergency feeding organizations and restaurants. Other parts of the bill would strengthen supply chains and build further resilience in response to the pandemic, including providing financial assistance for equipment and supplies for food processors, farmers markets and similar entities to respond to the pandemic and protect workers in a manner similar to Rep Kim Schrier’s (D-Wa) Food and Farm Emergency Assistance Act and The Food Supply Protection Act, which was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mi).

“The House has provided additional funding to buy more farm products directly from farmers and to bolster key elements of the food supply chain during this critical period,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in a statement. “Investments in reducing the costs necessary to help small plants and processors run at full capacity, making sure that farmers markets are up and running, and that farmers, processors, and market operators have resources to adapt to new market conditions and purchase PPE for themselves and their staff will ensure that farmers, ranchers, fishers, and other producers can get their goods to market and serve people in their community who continue to struggle.”

However, Republicans were irked that some of their proposals had been rejected from the measure.

“Mr. Chairman, it is with a measure of regret that we begin our tenure together marking up this reconciliation bill,” said House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa), in his opening remarks. “The members of the Ag Committee have long prided ourselves on our bipartisanship. Unfortunately, today’s business charts a different course. Rather than spending time to work with Republicans, the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are abusing the reconciliation process to jam through a very narrow, partisan agenda with the barest of majorities.”

According to Politico, among some of the measures shot down by the Democratic majority were an amendment from Thompson to redirect 23% of the total spending in the bill to other initiatives such as expanding rural broadband and supporting biofuel producers, as well as an amendment from Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo) that would limit the scope of debt relief to only cover debt incurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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