Coronavirus relief will include cash payments to farmers, says Perdue

The Trump administration will send billions of dollars in cash to farmers and ranchers to offset low prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and it will buy goods to assure there are no gaps in the food supply, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday night. The USDA has more than $15 billion to spend on relief, and President Trump said at the White House, “We have money going out to our farmers in the pretty near future.”

Perdue previewed the aid program on social media a few hours after the USDA forecast lower prices for U.S. crops and livestock for months into the future because of the coronavirus. Market prices began falling weeks ago as the coronavirus became a pandemic, and farm groups have deluged the administration with requests for aid.

The USDA “is using all financial resources we have been given to develop a program that will include direct payments to farmers and ranchers hurt buy Covid-19 and other procurement methods to help solidify the supply chain from producers to consumers,” said Perdue.

Direct payments have become the administration’s favorite means of subsidizing agriculture. It sent $23 billion in cash to producers to mitigate the impact of the Sino-U.S. trade war on 2018 and 2019 crops and livestock. Three-fourths of farmers surveyed by Purdue University said they were worried about the potential impact of the coronavirus on their farm’s income, and 62 percent said they anticipated a new round of trade war payments this year.

Besides funds for the farm sector, the $2 trillion coronavirus package enacted at the end of March allotted $450 million to buy food for donation to food banks and other community organizations.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, the leader in a campaign to provide meals to the hungry during the pandemic, said on Twitter that Perdue needs “to start taking more active role with support from Congress to buy directly from farmers and distribute food output across America.”

“I have directed @SecretarySonny to expedite help to our farmers, especially to the smaller farmers who are hurting right now,” tweeted Trump. “I expect Secretary Perdue to use all the funds and authorities at this disposal to make sure that our food supply is stable, strong, and safe.”

Perdue indicated on Wednesday that the USDA is working with a smaller amount of money for agricultural relief than commonly thought. “We’re in the process right now of collecting proposals and ideas from every sector affected, so we can be as balanced and fair in the allocation of the $9.5 billion, as well as what we have currently in the CCC, which is $6 billion.”

In the coronavirus relief bill, lawmakers provided $9.5 billion for “agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus” and $14 billion for the CCC — the Commodity Credit Corp., the agency known as the “USDA’s bank.” But the $14 billion won’t be delivered until July at the earliest.