House passes new Heroes Act as talks continue

-The Hagstrom Report

The House late Thursday passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package that the Democratic leadership described as an update to the $3.4 trillion Heroes bill that the House passed in May.

The vote was 214 to 207, with 18 Democrats joining the Republicans in voting against it. No Republican voted for it, and 10 Republicans did not vote.

The House-passed bill includes aid to ethanol plants, livestock producers who were forced to kill their animals because they could not find slaughterhouses due to COVID-19 and a 15% increase in benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But the Democrats who voted against the bill included House Agriculture Committee Cindy Axne of Iowa and Anthony Brindisi of New York and others from rural districts.

House Democratic leaders expressed frustration that they have not been able to reach agreement with the Republicans on a new aid package, but The Washington Post reported bipartisan talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are continuing.

Rob Larew, president of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, praised the bill and said, “There is simply no more time to waste — to preserve our economy and ensure the wellbeing of every American, the Senate and the White House must act quickly to come to a final agreement on a stimulus.”

Larew said the bill is better than the package that passed in May.

“One important addition is the RAMP-UP Act, which will help small- and mid-sized meat processing plants cover the cost of federal inspection,” Larew said.

“Farmers and ranchers have long experienced a severe shortage of meat processing facilities — and it has only gotten worse during the pandemic when several large plants shut down or slowed production. By expanding alternative processing options, this important provision would establish greater resilience in our meat supply chain. Additionally, the Heroes Act would bolster other critical rural infrastructure, including the U.S. Postal Service, mental health care, and COVID-19 testing and tracing.

“We are similarly pleased by the inclusion of several measures that would protect food chain workers, food businesses, and food security.

“For one, the bill allocates $120 billion to assist the restaurant industry, which has been especially hard-hit. It also would strengthen safety standards for slaughterhouses, poultry processing plants, and agricultural workplaces, where there is a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

“And finally, the Heroes Act would help more Americans feed their families by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The health of our food system, from farm to plate, is only as strong as its weakest link — we appreciate the House’s consideration for every stakeholder.”