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HEALS vs. HEROES acts: Industry groups react

The additional $20 billion for agriculture in the HEALS Act would come at a critical time as the impact of this pandemic continues to hit our farms and rural communities.
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The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture all reacted to ag provisions in the GOP COVID-19 package known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability and Schools (HEALS) Act and compared it to the House-passed HEROES Act.

The Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation released a statement from Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall and also a comparison of the GOP bill and the HEROES bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House.

Duvall said, “We are grateful to [Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and Senate leadership for placing a high priority on bringing relief to America’s farmers and ranchers throughout this crisis. The additional $20 billion for agriculture in the HEALS Act would come at a critical time as the impact of this pandemic continues to hit our farms and rural communities.

“America’s farmers and ranchers and the men and women who work alongside us have answered the call as an essential industry in keeping our nation’s food supply secure. Farmers and ranchers have faced difficult decisions and shown great ingenuity and perseverance to keep their farms running, all while being met with steep challenges as markets and supply chains rapidly react to unprecedented changes. We all depend on our nation’s farms and ranches hanging on through this crisis.

“We look forward to continuing our work with Congress and the administration to protect the well-being of our critical workforce, our rural communities and our country through a secure food supply.”

Despite Duvall’s enthusiasm, a Farm Bureau aide added, “There are discussions under way about some additional requests.”

Farm Bureau Chief Economist John Newton released an analysis comparing the HEROES Act and the GOP proposal.

“While many of the agricultural-related provisions are similar, the provisions of the HEALS Act provide USDA much more flexibility to craft crucial assistance for producers as well as processors of agricultural products. The next step in this process is to bridge the divide between the HEALS and HEROES acts — an effort that is likely to extend into August,” Newton wrote.

Rob Larew, president of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, said, “Family farmers and ranchers have been under immense financial pressure for many years, and the market disruptions and uncertainty wreaked by the pandemic have just compounded their stress. It’s clear that farmers require additional support to stay solvent, and the HEALS Act is an important step toward providing that support. To ensure that the funding earmarked by the bill is fairly and equitably distributed, we urge congressional oversight of and greater transparency about how and to whom assistance is offered.

“While farmers have continued to work hard throughout the pandemic to feed their friends and neighbors, not everyone is currently able to afford the food they’ve been growing. Thirty million Americans are out of work, causing food insecurity to double over the last several months. Emergency food assistance programs have put a dent in hunger, but it hasn’t been enough to offset the rapid rise in demand. SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] is an effective, low-cost, and flexible way to help hungry Americans feed their families; until the economy recovers, Congress must boost SNAP so that it can adequately serve everyone who needs it.”

PPP BRIGHT SPOT

Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic adviser for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which represents smaller, environment-minded farmers, said, “The bill is so bare-bones you cannot even make out the body. Rather than address the many shortcomings of CFAP [the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program], this proposal would just add a bigger blank check with no sense of direction. Sustainable agriculture, beginning farmers, and regional food systems are still left out in the cold. The basic humanitarian requests of the anti-hunger community are ignored.”

Hoefner added that “creative solutions” like the online SNAP reforms proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the pandemic grant program proposed by Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., “to undergird our farm and food system are not included either.”

Hoefner said that “about the only bright spot in the bill is the inclusion” of the Paycheck Protection Program proposed by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D. and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., “to provide access to the many farmers with no net farm income in 2019 who heretofore have been left out. Our hope now rests in the bipartisan negotiations that we hope will add both actual flesh and a beating heart to the less-than-bare-bones bill.”

NASDA noted that “the Senate Republican plan would provide the USDA secretary with $20 billion in new discretionary funding to support agricultural producers, growers and processors. USDA’s Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Service would also receive a $245 million infusion to offset the decrease in user fees that typically fund the program. Not included in the Republican plan is additional funding for food and nutrition programs or dedicated funding for state departments of agriculture to respond to COVID-19 impacts.”

NASDA President Doug Goehring, who is the North Dakota agriculture commissioner, added, “The recovery of the food and agriculture sectors is incomplete. There is huge unmet need for consumers and farmers. State departments of agriculture have stepped up to the plate during this pandemic to help food producers stay safe and meet the needs of their communities. We urge Senate leadership to include the Farming Support to States Act in the next round of COVID-19 relief so that state departments of agriculture can leverage local solutions for local recovery of the food and agriculture supply chain. We thank Senators Baldwin, [Susan] Collins, [R-Maine] and King [I-Maine] and Representatives [Xochitl] Torres Small [D-N.M.] and [Dusty] Johnson [R-S.D.] for leading this approach towards long-term recovery.”

“The food and agriculture value chain cannot afford another round of band-aids for COVID-19 relief and recovery,” NASDA CEO Barb Glenn said. “This relief package falls short of meeting the needs of the food and agriculture community. We will continue to press Congress for smart policymaking to guard against an uneven COVID-19 recovery that harms our food system and rural America.”

Farm Credit Council President and CEO Todd Van Hoose said, “The HEALS Act is a terrific next step in the process to provide much needed additional assistance to U.S. agriculture,” but he urged quick passage in the Senate and bipartisan agreement with the House on a final assistance package.

“The HEALS Act would provide substantial assistance to farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses,” Van Hoose said. “The bill provides $20 billion in direct assistance via USDA to agricultural producers. It dramatically simplifies the forgiveness process for small Paycheck Protection Program loans, better tailors the existing PPP to the needs of farmers, and simplifies Farm Credit’s ability to make PPP loans to farmers and agribusinesses.

“Introduction of the HEALS Act follows House passage of the HEROES Act, which also would provide substantial assistance to ag producers and agribusinesses. Both bills include significant funding for USDA to provide additional direct assistance to farmers. That direct assistance is what America’s farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses need right now to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect our food supply.” ❖


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