July 27, 2020
Anyone who has been near a computer or television during the past week is certainly aware of the chaotic negotiations in the Senate as Majority leadership works to craft their version of a fourth coronavirus pandemic response bill (C4). The House passed their $3 trillion HEROES Act (C4) more than two months ago (May 15, 2020), but the Senate has yet to act. There is real urgency as a number of important provisions in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act (C3), including expanded unemployment insurance benefits, eviction protection for some renters, and programs to support small business have expired or are set to expire on July 31st. It was expected that the Senate Majority leadership would lay the groundwork for negotiations in July, but it has become clear that not everyone did their homework. We now face a lapse in C3 program benefits —or an even longer hiatus if agreement isn’t reached before Congress leaves for the August recess.
Even as the C4 package is being drafted, there continues to be new developments in C3 programs, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), USDA’s program designed to support farmers and provide additional food aid to families in need. While CFAP’s shortcomings are well documented, there were some minor improvements made earlier this month as part of a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process, an open comment period where USDA sought stakeholder input. The comment period opened May 22, 2020 and closed June 22, 2020. USDA received 1740 comments including one from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), and took action on a few of NSAC’s recommendations: extending application deadlines and adding additional language support to the national hotline to help farmers who may not be English proficient, but took no action on NSAC’s programmatic recommendations. The bulk of the changes made by USDA to CFAP, in a rule issued July 9, 2020, was the addition of several new crops to the list of eligible commodities. This is of particular importance because as the number of eligible commodities increases, farmers have a better chance of qualifying for the CFAP program and the payments they might receive.
The important take-away for farmers is that if they grow a crop that was added to the list of eligible commodities (detailed below), there is a chance that CFAP might now be a better fit. If they already qualified for a CFAP payment, even more money might be within their grasp. The window for farmers to file new or revised CFAP applications is open now and closes August 28, 2020.
Below are the crops that were added or expanded to the list of eligible commodities for which a farmer may receive a payment:
NSAC continues to work with Member offices on a variety of marker bills that would help address the shortcomings of the existing CFAP program and has requested the opportunity to meet with senior USDA staff to discuss any potential revisions to the existing program. Conversations with Democratic and Republican Senate offices have shown an extraordinary amount of support for modifying CFAP to include a revenue based direct payment program – often for livestock producers and direct marketing farmers – and we may see several more marker bills introduced in the coming weeks. For more up to date information and rapid analysis of any Senate C4 package, please check back on the NSAC Press page.