Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did not offer a timeline to farmers Friday regarding when USDA would be releasing frozen aid funds or announcing the next direct-aid programs to producers that have already been passed by Congress.
Vilsack spoke Friday in the closing general session to participants in the virtual Commodity Classic event. At least some aid programs for producers were frozen for review when President Joe Biden took office. Vilsack, who was confirmed last week, said the department continues looking at those programs while also waiting for Congress to pass the latest national aid package being debated now.
The secretary said previous aid packages have helped “some but not all of those in the supply chain” receive aid to get through the crisis. USDA continues to conduct a review of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and its different forms that were crafted under the Trump administration. USDA is completing the analysis, but there is no specific date for when relief will be released or new forms of aid will be rolled out.
“I expect and anticipate, within the next several weeks, we’re going to be in a position to let folks know at least primarily what our thoughts are as we go forward with these COVID relief packages,” Vilsack said.
The $900 billion package that passed Congress in December remains held up in USDA’s review. That package includes a $20-per-acre payment for non-specialty-crop producers, based on 2020 planted acres. Another provision of that bill provided nearly $1 billion in support for dairy producers as well. The bill also included a provision for livestock producers that reimbursed up to 80% of losses due to euthanizing animals when the supply chains were backed up last year.
Part of the evaluation now is looking at what the demand is and determining who has not been helped, or not helped adequately enough, he said. He pointed to industries that have been relatively left out of earlier aid packages, such as the biofuels industry and certain specialty crops.
“I suspect we will find with the amount of money that we have that it will be difficult to meet all of the needs that already have been articulated and those that are still coming in,” Vilsack said.
USDA continues to sign up farmers for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program — Additional Assistance (CFAP-AA). Sign-up will continue even as payments for that program remain frozen.
Applications for CFAP-2 closed in December and USDA has continued providing those payments, which amount to $13.27 billion. Corn, cattle, “sales commodities,” soybeans, milk, wheat and hogs remain the largest commodities receiving payments under the program.