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RELEASE: Last-Minute Coronavirus Relief Package Will Strengthen Our Farm and Food System

December 21, 2020


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Eric Deeble, Policy Director
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
edeeble@sustainableagriculture.net

Last-Minute Coronavirus Relief Package Will Strengthen Our Farm and Food System
The Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 provides additional aid to farmers, farm and food system workers, and families

Washington, DC, December 20th, 2020 – Today, Congress will consider passage of the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020, a bipartisan, bicameral compromise bill which would provide approximately $900 billion in pandemic aid measures, including assistance for farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters, and boosts to programs that help stabilize their markets and processing options during a period of great disruption.

“We are grateful for the efforts of Senators Roberts and Stabenow and Congressmen Peterson and Conaway to address still-unmet needs for agriculture in this relief package. Making contract growers eligible for aid, dedicating support for PPE for farm and food system workers, investing in local and regional markets and processing infrastructure, and ensuring more farmers can participate in procurement efforts like the Farmers to Families Food Box program show that Congress is taking some overdue steps to assist farmers who need help now,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

The bill provides the Secretary of Agriculture with $11.1875 billion to prevent, prepare for and respond to the pandemic by “providing direct support and purchasing of food and agricultural products.” The $11.1875 billion in assistance includes explicit authority to support local and regional food systems, contract poultry growers, small and midsized processors, and the provisioning of PPE and other measures to protect food system workers- all of which were priorities for NSAC and its member organizations.

The bill also provides funding for a number of USDA programs that have been longstanding priorities for NSAC:

  • $100 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program, a competitive grants program that supports direct-to-consumer marketing strategies, local and regional food business enterprises acting as intermediaries, and producer led value-added agriculture enterprise development. Includes language reducing the required applicant match to just 10% during the emergency and allowing that contribution to be an in-kind contribution.
  • $75 million for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, a competitive grants program that supports training and outreach to beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers, including farmers of color. Includes language reducing the required applicant match to just 10% during the emergency and allowing that contribution to be an in-kind contribution, along with the authority to waive any maximum grant cap for the program.
  • $75 million for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, a competitive grants program that supports projects that help low-income consumers access and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables through “cash” incentives that increase their purchasing power at locations like farmers markets. Includes language reducing the required applicant match to just 10% during the emergency and the authority to use some of the funds to provide currently funded projects with additional resources.
  • $28 million to assist individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations and connect them to stress assistance programs. 

NSAC is also pleased that the bill includes nutrition aid, including a temporary 15% increase in individual monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, expansion of other vital nutrition programs, and additional funding to help USDA expand the SNAP online purchasing program, including to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers.

Unfortunately, while the bill does provide nearly $60 million in funding to transition state inspected and custom exempt plants to federal inspection, this will not help small and very small federally inspected plants at a time when they are operating at maximum capacity. Therefore this funding is unlikely to help with the backlog issues of 12-18 months at these plants and NSAC hopes that Congress will consider a grant program like that included in the Strengthening Local Processing Act in the future.

“This bill is long overdue, does not do enough to target aid to those producers and families who have been most impacted, and sunsets too soon: all but ensuring advocates will have to return to fight for families again in January,” said Deeble. “Even still, it is an important starting point as the new Administration and Congress begin to look beyond emergency response to the longer term work of rebuilding our food and farm system to be more sustainable, just, and equitable for every family.”

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About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net/


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