Smaller pot of money for coronavirus relief, says Perdue

The USDA is working with a smaller amount of money for coronavirus relief than is commonly realized, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, though he pledged that there would be a “balanced and fair” distribution of funds. Perdue indicated the USDA has $15.5 billion at its disposal — two-thirds of the figure that has been widely cited.

When it passed the $2 trillion relief bill, Congress gave the USDA $9.5 billion “for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus” and allotted an additional $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corp., the USDA agency that was the conduit for Trump tariff payments. But the $14 billion won’t arrive before July. In the interim, $6 billion in CCC funding is available, Perdue said during a teleconference.

“We’re looking forward to getting it out as soon as possible,” said Perdue. “We’re meeting daily on it, getting data, listening to stakeholders. Our goal is to get it done sooner rather than later” in a package that is “inclusive … balanced and fair in allocation.”

The $14 billion was designated for replenishment of CCC funding “as reflected in the June 2020 report of its financial condition.” That means the money cannot be secured until after the June 30 financial statement is completed, said a USDA official.

The CCC, nicknamed the USDA’s bank, can spend up to $30 billion before needing an infusion of cash from Congress. Lawmakers routinely replenish CCC funding, usually at the start of the fiscal year. The $14 billion in the coronavirus bill was regarded as an early replenishment of funds, which it would be, and little attention was given to the timing when the relief bill was enacted on March 27.

Dairy groups have urged the USDA to purchase milk and donate it to food banks as a way to relieve the springtime surge in production. “Yes, it’s a possibility,” said Perdue. “The challenge is the quantity and the size.” Milk is perishable and must be delivered quickly. Food banks have limited refrigeration space.