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US to unveil $15.5 billion in coronavirus farm aid

14 April 2020

Sources report that the USDA will spend up to $15.5 billion in the first phase of its plan to shore up the nation’s food supply chain against the impacts of COVID-19.

According to Reuters, three sources familiar with the matter believe the plan could be announced this week. This would mark the Trump administration’s first big push to ensure the pandemic doesn’t trigger consumer food shortages as meat processors restrict operations, dairy farmers dump milk and farmers struggle to plant and deliver crops.

The initial plan will include direct payments to farmers and ranchers, along with other support measures, using a portion of the $23.5 billion approved by Congress to support agriculture in a coronavirus stimulus bill last month, along with some existing USDA funds, according to the sources.

The USDA will announce the initial plan as early as this week and is expected to detail later phases of the support programme once more money from the stimulus bill becomes available, potentially in July, they said.

"It's not enough to cover all of agriculture, but we see it as a first step," said Andrew Walmsley, director of Congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farmer trade group.

"We expect there will be more aid going forward."

Walmsley expected farmers to start receiving checks within weeks. The other two sources asked not to be named.

The USDA declined to comment on the initial phase.

The effort comes as supply chain disruptions caused by the spread of coronavirus make it harder for farmers across the globe to deliver food to consumers.

In the United States, several beef and pork packing plants have shut down as workers fall ill or die from the virus. Smithfield Foods, for example, the world's biggest pork processor, said on Sunday it will shut a US plant indefinitely due to a rash of coronavirus cases among employees and warned the country was moving "perilously close to the edge" in supplies for grocers.

Some dairy farmers have also been dumping milk because of a loss of their regular buyers, and labourers and truckers are in short supply, according to Reuters and BBC reporting.

In the coronavirus stimulus bill, dubbed the CARES Act, lawmakers set aside $9.5 billion for USDA to assist livestock producers.

That money is already available to USDA and is expected to be part of the funds tapped in the programme to be announced this week, according to Walmsley and the other sources.

The rest is expected to come from some $6 billion currently in the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corp (CCC) funding authority.

The CARES Act also added another $14 billion to the CCC, but those funds won't be available until after 30 June, a USDA spokesperson said.

Read more about this story on the Reuters website



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