This week, Senate leadership introduced the Health Economic Assistance Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. The HEALS Act is the latest in response to the COVID-19 national emergency and would provide an additional $20 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers and ranchers.
The $20 billion has few restrictions and can be used “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers, growers, and processors impacted by coronavirus, including producers, growers, and processors of specialty crops, non-specialty crops, dairy, livestock and poultry, including livestock and poultry depopulated due to insufficient processing access and growers who produce livestock or poultry under a contract for another entity.”
The bill also allocates an additional $457 million to USDA to address other issues, including $245 million to make up for lost user fees due to the decline in agriculture inspection services and $113 million in rural rental assistance to low-wage residents.
Senate leadership also introduced the Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act as part of the HEALS Act, which includes several of the technical changes to the Paycheck Protection Program supported by many farm groups.
Farm groups are happy to see agriculture included in the legislation. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said, “The additional $20 billion for agriculture in the HEALS Act would come at a critical time as the impact of this pandemic continues to hit our farms and rural communities.
“America’s farmers and ranchers and the men and women who work alongside us have answered the call as an essential industry in keeping our nation’s food supply secure. Farmers and ranchers have faced difficult decisions and shown great ingenuity and perseverance to keep their farms running, all while being met with steep challenges as markets and supply chains rapidly react to unprecedented changes. We all depend on our nation’s farms and ranches hanging on through this crisis.
Farm Credit Council President and CEO Todd Van Hoose said, “Introduction of the HEALS Act is a terrific next step in the process to provide much needed additional assistance to U.S. agriculture. We hope the full Senate will move quickly to debate and pass the bill. Once the Senate acts on the bill, we urge House and Senate leadership to move quickly to reach a bipartisan agreement on a final assistance package.
“The HEALS Act would provide substantial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses. The bill provides $20 billion in direct assistance via USDA to agricultural producers. It dramatically simplifies the forgiveness process for small Paycheck Protection Program loans, better tailors the existing PPP to the needs of farmers, and simplifies Farm Credit’s ability to make PPP loans to farmers and agribusinesses.
“Introduction of the HEALS Act follows House passage of the HEROES Act, which also would provide substantial assistance to ag producers and agribusinesses. Both bills include significant funding for USDA to provide additional direct assistance to farmers. That direct assistance is what America’s farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses need right now to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect our food supply.”
Farm groups are urging Congress to act quickly, compromise the two bills, and finalize the assistance package in the coming weeks.”