Apparel manufacturers are eligible for $50 million in pandemic relief funding that will indirectly help cotton and wool producers, said the Agriculture Department on Thursday. The USDA said the new Cotton and Wool Apparel program would mitigate the downturn in sales of dress apparel during the pandemic.
Since last spring, participants in WIC, the federal government’s health and nutritional safety net for low-income parents, infants and children, have been getting about three times as much as they normally get to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. The temporary benefit boost, designed to address food and nutrition insecurity during the pandemic, has increased fruit and vegetable consumption among participating children and spurred more than $1 billion in spending, according to a new report from the National WIC Association.(No paywall)
Congress should allow an additional year of federal waivers that make all children eligible for free meals at public schools, said nearly 2,000 anti-hunger, medical, religious and farm groups on Monday. The waivers are scheduled to expire on June 30 but the pandemic is far from over, said the groups in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
Congress traditionally enacts the farm policy bills covering the gamut from crop subsidies to food stamps at the urging of a coalition of farm, conservation and anti-hunger groups. A former USDA official said the 2023 farm bill could be in peril if there is a repetition of the political turbulence that temporarily derailed the omnibus legislation twice in the eight years.
Payments totaling $270 million are being made to so-called contract producers to offset revenue lost to the pandemic in 2020, said the Agriculture Department on Thursday. Previous aid programs were directed at the owners of livestock but not the farmers who produced hogs, poultry, and eggs under contract to them.
Farmers and ranchers have received nearly $30.6 billion in coronavirus relief payments in the past 17 months, according to USDA data released on Monday. Pandemic assistance is a major element in farm income this year, as it was in 2020, and is projected to equal one-fourth of net farm income.
Federal waivers that allowed schools to hand out "grab and go" meals to students, and that made meals free to all students, were powerful tools in blunting the impact of the pandemic on food insecurity among children, said USDA economists. Although the number of school meals declined 17 percent in fiscal 2020, because of the waivers 1.7 billion meals were served from March-May 2020 "that may have otherwise not been distributed," they said in a Covid-19 working paper.
Farmers have received $4.8 billion in long-promised payments of $20 an acre on crops that range from corn, soybeans, and wheat to sorghum and sugar beets, said USDA data on Monday. It was the largest disbursement of coronavirus relief funds since the Biden administration took office.
Nearly 6 million people in rural America had incomes below the poverty line during the pandemic year of 2020, an increase of 315,000 from the preceding year, according to a Census Bureau estimate released on Tuesday. The annual Income and Poverty report indicated that one in seven rural residents lived in poverty, compared to the national average of one in nine.
After reaching its highest level since 2013, U.S. net farm income would tumble by one-fifth next year, despite continued high crop and livestock revenue, said the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute on Tuesday. "Under current policies, farm income could drop again in 2022, as government payments decline and production expenses continue to rise," the think tank said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new $700 million grant program to provide direct financial relief to U.S. farm and meatpacking workers hit hard by Covid-19. But it was unclear whether undocumented immigrants, who make up roughly half of all farmworkers and nearly a quarter of meatpacking workers, would be eligible.
Since it revamped its pandemic relief programs in March to "reach a broader set of producers," the Agriculture Department has committed $8.75 billion in assistance to farmers and ranchers, including $750 million for the dairy sector and up to $1 billion for contract growers of pigs and poultry. Only a few items remained on its list for implementation on Tuesday, among them $700 million for biofuel producers.
Fueled by strong commodity prices and continued pandemic assistance, farmland values are skyrocketing, up by 14 percent in the central Midwest and by 10 percent in the central Plains, said the Federal Reserve banks in Chicago and Kansas City on Thursday.
Some 1.2 billion people do not get enough to eat to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle in 76 countries monitored by the USDA for food insecurity, an increase of 291 million people, or 32 percent, caused by the pandemic. "The economies of the countries ... sharply contracted in 2020 due to the widespread pandemic, resulting lockdowns and other controls impacting business activity, employment and incomes," said the annual International Food Security Assessment.
When crop insurance indemnities and unemployment benefits are counted, the government sent $57.7 billion to farm operations and farm households in 2020, while the pandemic sent the U.S. economy into recession, said a working paper by USDA economists. It was the highest estimate yet of federal assistance to farmers last year and the most inclusive.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced up to $200 million in pandemic relief for loggers and timber haulers on Tuesday and said "there is more to come" for agriculture in the weeks ahead. Aid will include $700 million for biofuel producers and $980 million in dairy supports.
Producers who were forced to destroy pigs, chickens, and turkeys last year due to the pandemic are eligible for federal compensation ranging from 32 cents per chick to $258.57 for a heavyweight hog, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday. The new Pandemic Livestock Indemnity Program is the latest in coronavirus relief programs that have paid $24.3 billion to farmers since May 2020.
More than two months since the Biden administration announced the most ambitious summer food program in U.S. history, the USDA has approved benefits distribution plans for just 18 states — even with school out of session across the country.
The Agriculture Department would offer small farmers one-time loan forgiveness of up to $250,000 under legislation announced by five Democratic senators on Thursday. Lead sponsor Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she would try to include debt relief in the upcoming infrastructure bill "to make certain our farmers are not left behind."