Million-dollar payments from USDA’s coronavirus fund

A hog producer, Titan Swine, got the largest single payment during the first month of the USDA’s coronavirus relief program — $1.4 million — and it received two additional checks, totaling $1.1 million, on the same day, reported The Counter on Thursday. The nonprofit news organization said it found five farms that got single payments of significantly more than $750,000 and 13 instances in which multiple entities with the same business address received payments totaling more than $1 million.

“While a handful of farmers received hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than 300 received less than $10. Many more have not benefited from the program at all,” said The Counter. When the USDA set up the coronavirus program, it said the maximum payment per person or entity would be $250,000. “Applicants who are corporations, limited liability companies, or limited partnerships may qualify for additional payment limits where members actively provide personal labor or personal management for the farming operation,” said the USDA.

Multiple payments to the same address indicates “farms who share stakeholders or fall under the same umbrella organization may be receiving multiple payments,” said The Counter. “Many were also receiving loans from the Payroll Protection Program, meaning they were able to take advantage of multiple federal income-support programs.” As an example, it said five dairies registered to the same address in Georgia received coronavirus payments totaling $1.57 million as well as three PPP loans.

“Congress did not put a lot of guardrails on that [coronavirus] money,” said Eric Deeble of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a small-farm advocacy group. The NSAC said farmers who sell directly to consumers through farmers’ markets or local food networks have been slighted by the USDA in the aid program.

Nearly $6.6 billion in coronavirus aid has been paid to the agricultural sector since the USDA began accepting applications in late May.