Congress is Working on Another Pandemic Relief Bill – Here’s What’s In It

National Farmers Union

Another Pandemic Relief and Stimulus Bill is in the Works

As part of ongoing efforts to provide pandemic relief, House Democrats released the text of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on Tuesday.

The 1800-page-long bill would provide about $3 trillion in aid in total for health services, state and local governments, housing assistance, stimulus checks to taxpayers, the postal service, nutrition assistance, and agricultural economic disaster relief.

HEROES has a number of provisions for agriculture, including $16.5 billion in direct assistance for farmers and ranchers. This would augment the $16 million in payments that will be made through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). More information about the CFAP application process is expected to be announced in the near future.

The HEROES Act would also offer discounted premiums for future enrollment in the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) for 2021 through 2023 and would allow small- to medium-sized dairies to cover more of their production under the program. While the bill includes greater flexibility to clear existing supplies of dairy products, it does not include any producer supply management provisions.

Livestock provisions in the HEROES Act do not include significant reforms of the meat industry but instead are limited to financial assistance for farmers and ranchers who were forced to euthanize animals due to capacity reductions at processing plants. To protect workers at risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19, including meat packing workers, the bill would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS).

After being notably absent from previous assistance packages, the HEROES Act would provide ethanol or other biofuel plants with 45 cents for every gallon of fuel produced between January 1 and May 1, 2020.

Funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program would be increased by $100 million under the HEROES Act to address supply chain issues at state level. The Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) would be given $50 million in additional funding for to local farmers, farmers markets, and other local food outlets affected by market disruptions. Matching requirements for these funds would be temporarily waived.

To address rising food insecurity, the bill would temporarily increase the maximum monthly benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 15 percent. Additionally, it would allocate $25 million for the Farm to Food Bank program, which can be used by states to cover the cost of harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting donated commodities.

The HEROES Act would make programmatic changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and would an additional $10 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) emergency grants. Though the programs are not specific to agriculture, both can be used by farmers and agricultural businesses. Furthermore, the HEROES Act would provide $25 billion in financial relief for the U.S. Postal Service, which is expected to lose $22 billion over the next year and a half due to a sharp decline in mail volume.

The bill is expected to be sent to the floor for a vote on Friday. Full text of the HEROES Act is available here.

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