Scott releases ag text with Booker-Warnock-Luján-Stabenow provisions
House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., on Tuesday released the text of the agriculture and nutrition title of the fiscal year 2021 budget reconciliation bill prior to a virtual meeting the committee has scheduled at 2 p.m. today to consider the bill.
The committee said the package would provide $16.112 billion in funding to multiple agricultural and nutrition missions.
The text includes the $5 billion bill to help farmers of color that Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released on Tuesday, and additional money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Stabenow said in a news release late Tuesday that she had partnered with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Scott and House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., who has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs, “to ensure the bill includes vital support to help families put food on the table, strengthen the food supply chain for farmers, provide critical support for farmers of color and fund rural hospitals.”
In a statement, House Agriculture Chairman Scott said, “I am proud of the work that has gone into putting this critical bill together. In this current time of crisis for the American people, this language sees to it that we can provide assistance to our farmers, rural communities, and the most vulnerable among us.
“This bill is a stepping stone to the vision President Biden has set forth to get our country back on track. Each dollar included in this legislation plays an invaluable role in doing just that.
“I am pleased to be a part of this effort to put our Black farmers in a better position after suffering the impacts of this pandemic and the inability to receive equal access to USDA programs over decades.
“This funding will also help to continue the vital food assistance through our SNAP program as families face continuing uncertainty under this pandemic, while allowing the secretary to assist our rural communities in helping their citizens access food assistance and health care, including access to COVID-19 vaccines, and shoring up our food supply chains,” Scott concluded.
FARMERS OF COLOR
The Biden administration also signaled that it supports the $5 billion package to provide aid to farmers of color.
Agriculture Department Chief of Staff Katharine Ferguson said in a news release, “We are pleased to see the introduction of the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act yesterday in the Senate, a bill that will bring much-needed economic assistance during the pandemic and begin to advance equity for farmers of color. The bill is the culmination of hard work and collaboration among members of the Senate and House and new leadership at USDA who share a common purpose to end inequity in our food and agricultural systems. It’s a bill crafted to address the immediate need for debt relief among those who have been marginalized and are hurting while also advancing long-term issues such as heirs’ property, tackling the root causes of discrimination via an Equity Commission, and investing in building back a new generation of farmers of color. We are grateful for the leadership shown by Senators Booker, Warnock, Luján and Chairwoman Stabenow, as well as House Committee Chairman Scott and [House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford] Bishop [D-Ga.], who we expect to release a similar proposal today. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to strengthen the American Rescue Plan so that it brings relief to those most in need.”
Matt Herrick, the USDA communications director, told The Hagstrom Report that former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Biden’s nominee for Agriculture secretary, and the White House also support the bill.
Vilsack believes debt relief for farmers of color is essential in the final legislation “so they can fully participate in the agricultural economy,” Herrick said.
A source with knowledge of the development of the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act said that the idea of helping farmers with debt relief originated in the Biden-Harris transition team’s attempt to deal with systemic racism in agriculture. The Biden-Harris agricultural review team began working with Booker, who had already with Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced his Justice for Black Farmers Act, and with the Senate and House agriculture committees on a package. After Vilsack was nominated and met with Black farm leaders, he reported to the team that debt relief was the priority of Black farm leaders and that taking action on the issue was a priority for him. And while Vilsack’s nomination is still pending, the team of lower-level officials who are already in place at USDA moved the measure along quickly, the source said.
Scott said the “notable” provisions in the package include:
▪ $1 billion in assistance to and support for community-based organizations and 1890 land grant and other minority-serving institutions that work with Black farmers and other farmers of color on land access, financial training, heirs property issues, training the next generation and access to education.
▪ Farm loan assistance for Black farmers and other farmers of color.
▪ Extending 15% SNAP benefit increase through Sept. 30, 2021.
▪ $37 million to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to fill a gap that has grown as food for this program has become scarcer during the pandemic.
▪ $500 million in Community Facility Program funds to help rural hospitals and local communities broaden access to COVID-19 vaccines and food assistance.
▪ $3.6 billion for the secretary of agriculture to continue to help the food and ag sector supply chains.
▪ $100 million in overtime fee relief to small meat and poultry processors grappling with COVID-19-related backlogs.
▪ $800 million for the Food for Peace program, including for purchases of U.S.-grown crops used in international humanitarian aid.
The chairs of the six House Agriculture subcommittees praised the bill, citing provisions in their areas of jurisdiction.
“We’re targeting $3.6 billion to build a more resilient food system by focusing on protective equipment investments for farm and food workers, food purchases for hungry people, and supply chain improvements for food and agriculture. The bill also provides $100 million in timely overtime fee relief to small meat and poultry processors who are still grappling with COVID-19-related backlogs and directs $300 million to expand USDA’s surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in animals,” said Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa, D-Calif.
“Additionally, as we continue to combat food insecurity here in the U.S., the United Nations estimates a record 235 million people globally will need assistance in 2021, a nearly 40% increase from last year. The $800 million in targeted support for the Food for Peace program included in this bill could not come at a more crucial time.”
Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Chairwoman Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said, “Farmers and producers can play a key role in addressing many of our current economic challenges, and this package is a step toward harnessing the power of American agriculture to rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID-19. As we work to strengthen the rural economy in a moment of hardship, I look forward to receiving feedback from crop and livestock producers about how these investments can protect family farms, expand economic opportunities, and support the next generation of farmers. I’m also glad to see that this bill includes funding to resolve long-standing issues related to land access, credit, and access to USDA programs – and I’m hopeful that USDA will ensure these provisions are targeted to the rural families and communities that need them most.”
Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee Chairwoman Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., said, “I am thrilled our package includes critical funding to support families as they continue to face economic and health hardships during this pandemic. The bill extends the much-needed 15% increase in SNAP until Sept. 30, provides an additional $37 million to low-income seniors through the Commodity Supplemental Assistance Program, and provides $1 billion for the Nutrition Assistance Program to assist Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands.”
“As SNAP rolls have grown from 36 million to nearly 43 million in less than one year, state partners administering SNAP continue to need assistance to ensure those who qualify for this most basic need are cared for in a timely manner. My provision to include $1.15 billion to help states until fiscal year 2023 will make sure state administrators and SNAP beneficiaries are assisted throughout this crisis and economic recovery.
“The $25 million for the SNAP online program will promote technological improvements for SNAP online purchasing and other SNAP technology-related modernizations, as well as fund additional technical assistance to retailers to educate them on new technological improvements,” Hayes added.
Commodities Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee Chairman Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., said, “I am proud of the provisions I fought hard to include in the COVID-19 relief package, which provide more than $1.5 billion to fund critical programs that help our farmers. The $500 million in Community Facility Program funds will provide flexible grants to rural hospitals and health providers to increase vaccine distribution and testing capacity, ramp up telehealth services, support staff, provide nutritional assistance to vulnerable individuals, and meet other needs. Additionally, this package provides critical debt relief and support for underserved farmers and producers. After countless meetings with rural health care providers, local governments, farmers, and families across my district – I know this assistance will make a meaningful difference in the lives and livelihoods of many.”
General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Chair Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said, “In 1920, Black Americans made up 14% of U.S. farmers – today it’s less than 2%. Systemic racism and discriminatory lending practices have led to a nationwide decline in the number of farmers of color. That’s why I am proud of the provisions my colleagues and I worked hard to include in the COVID relief package. These critical policies will provide support to build up opportunities and tear down barriers for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who face obstacles to accessing land, credit, and capital to own and operate their farm operations. Our farm communities have been hit hard by the global pandemic, and this COVID package is an important next step in working to build our economy back better for every American.”
Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee Chair Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., said, “Almost a year into this pandemic, specialty crop producers continue to be challenged by ongoing supply chain disruptions. The $3.6 billion provided in this legislation to the secretary will help ensure that specialty crop supply chains can better manage the disruptive impacts of this historical event while ensuring the health and safety of each person within the supply chain, especially our essential farmworkers. As BHR chair, I am also proud of the funding we are proposing for research, education, and extension efforts at our minority-serving institutions, including scholarships, internships, and pathways to federal employment. These investments will ensure that COVID-19 recovery efforts are equitable and can reach all rural communities while simultaneously expanding valuable opportunities for students at these targeted institutions.”
Eric Deeble, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, praised the bill, saying, “It is clear from the House bill that Congress intends to use the reconciliation process to the fullest. The bill also sends a very strong signal to the new administration to double down on efforts to address racial inequities within the food and farm system.
“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. 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,” Deeble added.
Brian Ronholm of Consumer Reports, a former Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service official, said, “The funding ($100 million) that would go toward FSIS overtime inspection cost reduction for small and very small meat and poultry establishments is an important provision because it would help small and very small meat and poultry plants afford to operate longer hours, allowing them to increase their capacity and expand markets. This also would help minimize any potential supply disruptions that could occur during public health emergencies.”
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