Agriculture eligible for coronavirus injury loans

The Senate passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill by voice vote on Tuesday that includes a provision making agricultural enterprises eligible for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, according to Republican lawmakers. The House is expected to act on the bill, the fourth legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic, on Thursday.

The bulk of the new funding, $310 billion, would go into the Paycheck Protection Program, which offer guarantees on loans to small businesses that are forgiven if they use the money to pay employees. Initial funding for PPP loans ran out within days because of high demand for aid.

“There probably isn’t ever going to be enough money in that,” said Ted Van Hoose, chief executive of the Farm Credit Council, a network of rural lenders. Van Hoose told reporters that he expected the new PPP money to be exhausted within three days.

The $16 billion pledged by the USDA in coronavirus payments to farmers and ranchers “will be helpful,” he said. “We’re seeing extreme pressure in the livestock sector.” Tracy Sparks, head of Yosemite Farm Credit in the Central Valley of California, said, “We strongly believe more assistance will be necessary.”

Republican Reps. Michael Conaway and Steve Chabot said language in the Senate package makes agriculture eligible for economic injury loans, run by the Small Business Administration. The SBA ruled agricultural operations were ineligible when it set up the program. Groups such as the National Pork Producers Council have called for a change in the rules.

“It is encouraging that we are making another tool available to U.S. agricultural producers through the EIDL program,” said Conaway, the GOP leader on the House Agriculture Committee.

The package omitted the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits that was a goal of Democrats in Congress and anti-hunger groups. “This raises the risk of families — including many with very young children, who are overrepresented among very poor households — facing more serious hardship as a result of the downturn,” said Robert Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Policymakers should address this in the next response measure.”