Congressman Costa Leads 126 Members in Calling on President to Ensure Direct Relief to Farmers and Producers in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

Apr 23, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) led 126 members in the U.S. House of Representatives in calling on the President to eliminate payment limits for specialty crop, livestock, and dairy producers before the final Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) details are announced. Congressmembers Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) , Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Henry Cuellar (D-CA), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), and Fred Upton (R-MI) co-led the bipartisan letter.

On Friday, April 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the CFAP as part of its plan to implement funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CFAP includes $2.1 billion for direct payments to specialty crop producers and at least $100 million per month in specialty crop purchases. For many family agricultural operations, this support will mean they are able to stay in business and pass farms and ranches on to the next generation despite these challenging times.

Unfortunately, the direct payments included in the CFAP are contingent on payment limits that do not take into account the cost of agricultural labor for many crops, including specialty crops. According to the CFAP summary released by USDA, producers will be eligible for no more than $125,000 per commodity, with an overall limit of $250,000 per individual or entity. These payment limits would severely restrict the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches across the nation.

The members wrote, “…We are concerned about the $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per individual or entity payment limits as it relates to assistance for the livestock, dairy and specialty crop sectors. This limitation would severely restrict the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches across the nation. We strongly urge you to eliminate payment limits for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers before the final CFAP program details are announced.”

“With the passage of the CARES Act, Congress provided critical assistance for agricultural producers across the nation who are impacted by COVID-19. Now, I want to ensure that that relief reaches the specialty crop producers on the Central Coast of California,” said Congressman Panetta. “That’s why I wrote this letter, and am proud to have the support of many of my colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee and other members who represent family-owned farms and ranches across the nation, to urge the President to release direct payments to these producers and farmers.”

“Farmers are suffering and without action we are at serious risk of losing the ability to feed ourselves. A one-time payment of $125,000 is not enough to ensure we come out of this crisis intact. That is why we are calling on the Administration to eliminate payment limits in their aid package. It is clear that the $9.5 billion Congress provided in the CARES Act is not enough. We must provide more funding to ensure farmers are supported,” said Congressman Costa.

“Our nation's food producers have and will continue to face significant losses this spring and beyond due to COVID-19. I sincerely appreciate President Trump and Secretary Perdue for making our agriculture industry a top priority and working to provide relief to American farmers and ranchers through these unprecedented times. We must make sure this relief is proportionate with the losses producers face. I will continue to work with the Administration and my colleagues in both the House and Senate to ensure Central Washington’s farmers receive the aid they need,” said Congressman Newhouse.

“It isn’t a secret that food producers across the country have been hit especially hard by the unprecedented and necessary measures our country has taken to combat COVID-19. The slow down in the food service industry has decimated markets for crops that are already planted and have nowhere else to go. In Idaho, agriculture is 20 percent of our economy and limiting the amount of assistance we can provide farmers and ranchers simply won’t be enough to save their operations. These family run farms are the fabric of our communities in Idaho and I hope this letter helps the Administration and USDA better understand the impacts payment limitations will have on rural America. I stand ready to work with my colleagues in Congress to provide USDA the resources they need to help the agriculture community without payment limitations,” said Congressman Simpson.

“Our farmers and ranchers have seen several years of difficult markets,” said U.S. Congressman Roger Marshall, M.D. “We appreciate President Trump’s continued support of producers but the need is more urgent than ever before. We are optimistic Secretary Perdue and the Administration will work to provide payment limitation flexibility within CFAP to allow our farmers and ranchers to access the assistance they desperately need as we continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19. Without additional assistance we risk the loss of hundreds of family farms and ranches across the state. We must continue to do everything we can to keep our producers in business to ensure we have enough safe, affordable, and high quality food to continue feeding hard working Americans,” said Congressman Marshall.

“Texas farmers and ranchers have done incredible work in providing food and agricultural products to our nation during this pandemic. We need to ensure they have the necessary resources and funding to maintain their critical contributions,” said Congressman Cuellar. “Eliminating the payment limitations in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will help our farmers and ranchers ensure that our food supply chain remains secure and strong. I want to thank Congressman Panetta, and the bipartisan group of lawmakers leading this letter, for their commitment to maintaining the strength of the U.S. agricultural industry.”

“Family farms and ranches come in all shapes and sizes. That means that in performing the essential service of providing food and farm products during the pandemic, their needs may be very different. Federal aid must be flexible enough to allow farms of all shapes and sizes to remain productive, in order to maintain supplies of food and farm products,” said California Farm Bureau Federation President James D. “Jamie” Johannsson.

 

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

 

Dear President Trump,

Thank you for your announcement of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). For many family agricultural operations, this support will mean they are able to stay in business and pass farms and ranches on to the next generation of producers in spite of these challenging times.

However, we are concerned about the $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per individual or entity payment limits as it relates to assistance for the livestock, dairy and specialty crop sectors. This limitation would severely restrict the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches across the nation. We strongly urge you to eliminate payment limits for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers before the final CFAP program details are announced.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused unprecedented damage to the livestock, dairy and specialty crop industries. Agricultural economists have estimated over $13 billion in harm to the cattle industry and $5 billion to the pork industry due to the pandemic, with many billions more in injury to dairies, fruit, nut, and vegetable producers, and the horticulture and floriculture industry. As is true for many other small businesses across the country, this financial harm comes through no fault of these farmers and ranchers, nor is it the result of typical market forces. As such, these relief payments should aim to indemnify as much loss as possible without restrictive payment limitations.

While some farmers and ranchers produce multiple commodities, and therefore will be eligible for up to the $250,000 total payment limit per individual or entity, many cattle, pork and dairy operations are solely invested in livestock. This common business practice within the cattle, pork and dairy industries of being invested in a single commodity means this payment limit structure will be even more severe for these producers compared to other commodities. Fruit and vegetable producers by comparison can have very high costs of production—strawberry producers can invest $30,000 an acre for example—and thus payment limits of this level are too restrictive to meaningfully address the losses many producers are facing.

It is critical for USDA to provide a level of support that is responsive to the disaster situation producers are currently facing. As you know, Congress approved $14 billion in the CARES Act to partially replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation and we believe that a significant portion of these dollars should be used to ensure that needs are met, even if the payments must be paid in tranches.

We appreciate the support you and Secretary Perdue have provided farmers and ranchers, and we look forward to working with you make certain agricultural producers receive the level of assistance necessary in response to COVID-19.

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