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House Democrats leave out USDA's CCC replenishment in CR

Jacqui Fatka

September 22, 2020

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a short-term spending bill that would avert a government shutdown on Sept. 30 and keep federal agencies funded through Dec. 11. However, Republicans in both chambers criticized the bill for not including replenishment of the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC), which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has utilized to make Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments as well as trade aid and farm bill safety net payments.

Both sides appear to agree on an end date for the continuing resolution (CR), which would extend current government funding levels and buy more time for negotiations on a slate of fiscal 2021 spending bills. The proposed bill does not refill the $30 billion CCC account.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) admonished the House Democrats’ CR, which denies funding for USDA’s implementation of farm bill and COVID-19 relief programs.

Roberts said the “pandemic of politics” was made worse Monday with the rollout of the CR. “This ill-advised plan would delay critical farm programs and limit risk management tools that are a lifeline for producers right now,” he said.

Roberts was one of many Republicans who took to the Senate floor last week calling for replenishment of the CCC fund. Participating in the colloquy were Sens. John Hoeven (R., N.D.), John Thune (R., S.D.), Deb Fischer (R., Neb.), Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R., Miss.) and John Boozman (R., Ark.). House Democrats have also called for the replenishment, including Reps. Cindy Axne (D., Iowa), Dave Loebsack (D., Iowa) and Abby Finkenauer (D., Iowa). In addition, 42 agricultural groups have asked for the funds.

American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall stated, “We’re disappointed that Congress has not reached an agreement on replenishing the Commodity Credit Corp. For years, both parties have come together to ensure the CCC provides a safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers. A fully funded CCC is as important as ever as farmers are suffering through a pandemic, trade imbalances and severe weather."

In her remarks, Hyde-Smith warned that agriculture and conservation programs would “come to a screeching halt” without including specific language in the CR. More than 1.7 million farmers and ranchers are enrolled in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, which the 2018 farm bill authorized to help the American agriculture sector weather financial and market disruptions.

Absent any provision in the CR allowing the CCC to continue financing authorized activities, significant disruptions will occur across a host of programs, including ARC, PLC, Dairy Margin Coverage, Marketing Assistance Loans, conservation programs and many others, she said.

House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America.

However, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said the regular process for the yearly CCC replenishment of $30 billion comes after USDA files financial reports for the fiscal year in mid-November, as required by law.

Congress has provided with USDA a total of $44 billion in CCC funds this year — and an additional $9.5 billion in direct producer assistance. Stabenow said this will give USDA enough money to spend on farm bill programs through October, if managed appropriately, including additional COVID-19-related disaster programs authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act. Stabenow contends that if there are additional needs, the agriculture secretary has tremendous flexibility to transfer unspent funds to fully fund farm bill programs but has, in recent days, been critical of USDA’s lack of transparency and inequity in how it helps farmers with the CCC funds.

Stabenow said the CCC should be the way to aid agricultural producers, not a “slush fund” used for political purposes to hand out ahead of an election. Stabenow said USDA could have better managed the recently announced CFAP 2.0 payments after the scheduled October farm bill payments, such as for ARC and PLC. Because the money isn't sent out immediately after signup, it could be managed over the next six to eight weeks -- or even 10 weeks maximum -- so that all of the payments could be made when the CCC is refilled after USDA does its end-of-the-fiscal-year reports.

USDA could have staggered the CFAP payments into different tranches, such as how the last tranche of Market Facilitation Program (MFP) came in January 2020 after the first and second rounds came in 2019 under that fiscal year.

“Whether it’s using USDA dollars to bail out Big Oil or favoring certain farmers over others, the Trump Administration has proven they cannot be trusted to distribute payments fairly without additional congressional oversight. Unfortunately, Republicans have refused to add more accountability into the Commodity Credit Corp. funds,” Stabenow said.



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