Congress passes new COVID stimulus package

Congress worked late into the night to pass a combined spending bill and COVID stimulus package. The House and Senate approved the 5,500 page omnibus bill, the text of which was released only hours before the vote.

President Trump indicates he will sign the legislation as soon as it hits his desk and stimulus checks could start showing up in bank accounts next week.

There are many provisions for agriculture, including some that help producers who previously had been ignored. The $900 billion dollar package includes provisions for farmers, ranchers, nutrition, food banks, and the supply chain.

Kansas Republican Roger Marshall says the deal is a win for farmers: “For my farmers with non-specialty crops a payment of $20 per acre. So, I think that’s a great win for my farmers.”

Row crop producers will see $5 billion dollars for supplemental payments, while specialty crops are allocated $225 million for lost crops. Another $3 billion dollars is designated for livestock producers who were forced to euthanize stock, due to the pandemic.

Marshall says that the bill also supports local food banks and commodity purchases.

“Those people are on the ground; they know who needs the help,” he states. “So, it’s a great way to help our local producers get their food directly to the market, so there is funding that, I think, will give the Secretary some flexibility to do just that.

One and a half billion dollars is included to fund food purchases for distribution, with $400 million dollars set to go to food banks through the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will also see a 15 percent boost for six months, with added flexibility for students, unemployed individuals, seniors, and online food retailers.

There will also be $284 billion dollars added to the Paycheck Protection Program to keep small businesses open.

According to Marshall, “Whether you are a farmer or ranch business, but also all the people in the food chain line as well. Whether you’re a small packing plant in Ellenwood, Kansas, or maybe you sell seeds and fertilizer at some of the cooperatives, I do think the Paycheck Protection Program is going to help a lot of people get through these next three months.”

The bill directs $30 billion dollars into procurement and distribution of vaccines, an important step towards ending the pandemic, according to the Senator-elect.

“We’ve already been rolling out the vaccines, the second vaccine has been approved, and if this administration does its job, we could reach herd immunity by the middle of March,” he explains. “So, this act, this legislation is meant to be a bridge to get us through the middle of March.”

To reach the agreement, Democrats sacrificed funding for state and local governments while Republicans dropped liability protection for businesses.

“Liability protection is important to every business. Whether you are a farmer or rancher or running a meat processing plant, we need some type of liability protection,” he adds. “We are very disappointed that Speaker Pelosi took that off the table, she said that was a non-starter, non-negotiable, but I really think the one item that is holding our economy back is this liability protection.”

Rural and urban residents alike will also see a $600 dollar stimulus check. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that people could see that money hit their bank accounts in a matter of days.

One of the bills included in the final package is the Ramp Up Act.

It allows small meat and poultry processors to make facility upgrades to become federally inspected plants. This would allow them to sell products across state lines and require USDA to look at ways to improve the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.

To make these improvements, $60 million dollars in grants will be available.