More Bills Introduced to Help Ag Through Pandemic Crisis

A succession of bills has been introduced this week on Capitol Hill to assist agriculture in navigating the rough waters of the COVID-19 crisis.

HEROES Act

The next round of coronavirus relief introduced by House Democrats would increase direct payments to farmers by $16 billion. The funds are expected to supplement the already planned $16 billion in payments. While the legislation focuses on replenishing the Paycheck Protection Program and providing an additional round of direct payments to Americans, the bill includes multiple benefits for agriculture. The Democrats’ plan would increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits 15 percent, and provide additional donation and feeding programs of commodities, including dairy.

The bill also includes a proposed 45 cents-per-gallon payment of biofuel produced this year through May first, as biofuel plants are shuttering amid a demand drop. Additional details in the legislation include $10 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, another $75 billion for coronavirus testing, a $200 billion fund for essential workers, and $1 trillion for state and local governments who need funds to pay vital workers. The House is expected to vote on the package Friday.

AG CHAIN Act

A bipartisan bill was drafted which would provide a federal tax holiday and a payroll tax exemption for all essential employees in the food and agriculture industry defined by recent Department of Homeland Security guidance. Called  the Assistance and Gratitude for Coronavirus Heroes in Agribusiness who are Invaluable to the Nation, or the AG CHAIN Act, the legislation is an extension of the previously introduced GROCER Act.

The provisions would take place from February 15, 2020, through June 15, 2020, for individuals making less than $75,000 annually. The bill would also provide discretion to the Treasury to extend this benefit for an additional three months.

Senate Bills Seeks Transparency

A group of Senators this week introduced a bipartisan bill to increase transparency in cattle pricing. Led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the legislation seeks to foster efficient markets while increasing competition and transparency among meat packers who purchase livestock directly from independent producers. The bill would require that a minimum of 50 percent of a meat packer’s weekly volume of beef slaughter be purchased on the open or spot market.

Grassley first introduced the bill in 2002. After discovering a discrepancy between high grocery store shelf prices and simultaneous decreased cattle prices, Grassley re-introduced the legislation this week. The longtime ag-state senator says the bill will make systemic changes to the cattle industry to ensure longevity of independent producers, which will protect the U.S. beef supply.