Next Round of COVID-19 Aid

Source: By Jerry Hagstrom, DTN Political Correspondentʥ Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., speaking on a Zoom call last April, talked on Wednesday to North Dakota farmers about some of what he sees coming up in a possible aid package from Congress. (DTN file image)
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., speaking on a Zoom call last April, talked on Wednesday to North Dakota farmers about some of what he sees coming up in a possible aid package from Congress. (DTN file image)

WASHINGTON, (DTN) — Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Wednesday that he expects Congress to write another coronavirus aid package that includes agriculture “over the next weeks.”

“We are working on it now,” Hoeven told North Dakota farm and ranch leaders on a virtual roundtable.

“Things change and evolve,” he said, but “I anticipate by the first part of August we are going to have done something.”

Then he added, “The caveat is all that could change.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this week that he expects the Republicans in the Senate and President Donald Trump to come up with a coronavirus aid package next week.

The House has already passed a package called the HEROES Act, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week she is willing to cancel or postpone the House recess scheduled to begin at the end of July to reach agreement with the Senate on a final bill.

During the roundtable Hoeven noted that the last coronavirus aid package included $14.5 billion for the Commodity Credit Corporation, which USDA has not tapped because it could not use the money until after a reporting requirement at the end of June.

Hoeven said he expects the next aid package would continue the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) with some add ons.

“We are looking at what the House did and there are certainly things in that we will use and there are likely to be some differences too,” Hoeven said. But he added that the House package cost $3 trillion and that the final package will not be that large.

He also said he has the fiscal year 2021 Agriculture appropriations bill ready for subcommittee and full appropriations committee consideration, but that the appropriations process in the Senate has stopped.

Hoeven said he does not know whether the appropriations bill will pass before the fiscal year begins on October 1, but that even if there is a continuing resolution it will be based on the fiscal year 2020 bill and will include enough money to “fund farm programs going forward.”

Between coronavirus aid and the appropriations bills, “we have positioned ourselves as well as we can,” Hoeven said.

During the call, the farm and ranch leaders pointed to the importance of ensuring fattened cattle can be slaughtered and ethanol plants need federal aid. Farmers also added that CFAP program has added potatoes to the list of commodities but the program is not providing the aid growers expected. USDA’s disaster program, the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP Plus) application process is cumbersome. Farmers also credited the Trump administration for doing a good job of managing the sugar program.

Separately from Hoeven’s roundtable, the Renewable Fuels Association released an analysis Wednesday stating that the industry has lost more than $3.4 billion in revenue already because of COVID-19. RFA has been advocating for the Senate to accept aid provisions for the ethanol industry that were included in the HEROES Act. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

“The analysis again underscores the need for Congress to act expeditiously to deliver emergency relief to the renewable fuels industry,” said Geoff Cooper, president of RFA. “As members of the Senate begin to craft their next COVID-19 stimulus package, we implore them to ensure the renewable fuels industry is not left behind again. We ask that they stand up for the 350,000 critical and essential workers whose jobs are supported by the ethanol industry.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host a call on Thursday to detail its priorities for the next COVID-19 relief bill.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

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