Capital dome and money

The $2 trillion stimulus aid legislation sent to President Donald Trump for signing March 27 includes several important provisions for agriculture.

The bill includes about $9.5 billion aimed primarily at livestock, dairy, and fruit and specialty crop producers. Farmers who sell directly to schools, restaurants and farmer’s markets would be eligible.

It also includes about $14 billion for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) that would allow USDA to formulate programs providing direct aid to farmers. The CCC was the source of funding for the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) of the past two years, but Congress had already provided some funding to help refill CCC coffers.

Also included is $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the largest food aid program in the country.

The total USDA tab in the bill is nearly $50 billion, including the food programs. The list includes money for child nutrition programs, funding that will go to the department to be used at the discretion of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and smaller amounts for items such as rural broadband and food pantries.

“When you think of the big bailout of the great recession of 2008-2009, this is really about three times the size of that,” says Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.

The good news, Hart says, is that the situation shows that when there is an emergency, Congress is still capable of acting — and of acting quickly and forcefully.

“It shows Congress can get its act together,” Hart says.

He says the huge economic bailout is really aimed at doing the same thing for the economy that the social distancing and quarantines are meant to do in combating the disease. The bailout is aimed at flattening the curve for the economy just as the other moves are aimed at flattening the curve for disease impact.

By pumping a lot of money into various segments of the economy, Hart says, the government hopes it can keep the economy working until things get straightened out.

But even with the unprecedented size of the spending package, it is possible lawmakers were stingy in some ways, according to Jonathan Coppess, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois.

Coppess says it is likely that much more funding may be needed for the SNAP program and other food programs for the poor.

“It’s really unfortunate” that more wasn’t included to fund food programs, he says.

The National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association issued statements praising lawmakers for including the CCC and livestock items in the bill. The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association issued a statement saying the crisis turned the markets upside down and the disaster relief was needed.

The National Farmers Union issued a news release in support of the legislation and pointing out the importance of funding in the package for rural hospitals. NFU President Rob Larew said in the release that “the challenges our country is currently facing are unprecedented — and they call for unprecedented solutions.”

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.