Senate GOP mulls skinny aid package without ag funding

Source: ByBy Philip Brasher, Agri-Pulse • Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2020

Senate Republicans are circulating a trimmed down coronavirus aid package that leaves out additional aid for farmers as well as the $1,200-per-person stimulus checks included in their earlier, $1 trillion HEALS Act.

The new proposal includes business liability protections that are a top priority for GOP leaders and also would authorize a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans with more favorable terms for farmers based on their Schedule F income.

The GOP proposal comes as the House is preparing to vote on a bill that would provide $25 billion to the Postal Service.

Democrats have previously rejected Republican suggestions to pass a series of COVID-19 aid bills on a piecemeal basis, and there is no sign either the House or the Senate bill has a chance of passing the other chamber.

The Senate GOP’s HEALS Act is a package of bills that included authorization for $20 billion to the Agriculture Department to compensate producers and processors for coronavirus-related losses.

A key Senate Republican who was involved in crafting the HEALS Act provisions for agriculture, John Hoeven of North Dakota, said he has talked to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as recently as this week about how to spend $14 billion that USDA already has in its Commodity Credit Crop. for additional coronavirus relief.

Hoeven, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, indicated that he is still working on getting additional money included in a new aid package. “As far as the $20 billion in new funding included in the HEALS Act, we continue working with our colleagues in Congress to come to an agreement for additional agriculture assistance,” he said in a statement to Agri-Pulse.

The HEALS Act also included PPP provisions for farmers similar to what is in the new GOP draft. The new bill includes one key change on eligibility for new PPP loans: The HEALS Act would require applicants to show a 50% drop in gross income between a quarter in 2019 and a quarter in 2020. The draft bill would lower that threshold to 35%.

Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, called the draft bill “a step in the right direction toward addressing the pressing needs of America’s farmers and ranchers” but said it “fails to recognize the deep damage COVID-19 is inflicting on American agriculture. Among the pressing issues is increasing direct assistance to farmers. Federal support is playing a crucial role in keeping farms above water as this pandemic continues to take its toll on families across the country.”

He noted that the PPP provisions would allow the forgivable loans to be used for for the cost of personal protective equipment but doesn’t allow money to go for farmworker housing and transportation expenses.

Liam Donovan, a lobbyist with Bracewell LLP, said that Senate Republicans apparently believe the Postal Service issue has provided an opening to advance a smaller coronavirus aid bill.

“How they intend to overcome this by weaving a handful of these policies together is unclear. And unless and until they can line up 50 votes for a package, skinny or otherwise, they will not be summoned back to Washington,” Donovan wrote in an analysis of the bill.

The Senate is not scheduled to be back in session until Sept. 8.

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