More funds and resources are being made available to agriculture and rural communities as a result of the newest federal COVID-19 relief legislation.
The American Rescue Plan received Congressional approval on March 10 and was signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday, March 11.
A number of the provisions in the legislation tie back to agriculture and rural parts of the country, specifically addressing strengthening the food supply chain, supporting farmers of color, providing support to rural communities and providing access to food, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet on the legislation.
“America’s farmers, ranchers and producers will reap the benefits of the American Rescue Plan as more resources flow through the economy, as more businesses open up, spurring greater demand for American food and agricultural products,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement following Congressional passage of the act.
To strengthen the food supply chain, the American Rescue Plan includes directions to continue food distribution through food banks, nonprofits or restaurants using products purchased from farmers; provides grants and loans for COVID-19 equipment for the safety of essential food workers; invests in food supply chain infrastructure; funds monitoring COVID-19 in animals; and reduces overtime inspection fees paid by small meat processors, according to the USDA fact sheet.
$4 billion is being targeted toward debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers, and a little over $1 billion will be used to create a USDA racial equity commission and address discrimination across USDA.
“The American Rescue Plan provides historic debt relief to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and other farmers of color who for generations have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering that this pandemic has wrought in communities of color. The American Rescue Plan answers that call to action,” said Vilsack.
To help rural areas, half a billion dollars is slated for a program that helps rural hospitals and communities expand COVID-19 vaccine access and food assistance, according to the USDA fact sheet. The legislation also includes funds to various programs for rental and housing assistance as well as investments in internet connectivity.
The American Rescue plan also provides for hunger relief through the Pandemic-EBT program; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; Commodity Supplemental Food Program for senior nutrition; and nutritional assistance for the territories.
National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern praised the bill for including additional agriculture and nutrition support intended to help farmers, rural communities, and food-insecure households throughout the nation.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government’s strong response has proven invaluable to dairy producers as they keep working, day-in and day-out, to sustainably provide families here at home and abroad with an abundant supply of nutritious dairy products,” Mulhern said in a news release. “However, while the availability of a vaccine is cause for hope, difficult months remain ahead.” He said the bill’s actions, “will better position all parts of the country to recover from the stresses of the pandemic and strengthen our communities for years to come.”
National Farmers Union members during the organization’s convention urged lawmakers to “enact much-needed short-term COVID-19 relief” for struggling businesses and hungry Americans as well as implement longer-term solutions to minimize future disruptions in the food chain and “remedy historical inequities…faced by farmers of color.” NFU President Rob Larew welcomed the bill’s passage and lauded legislators for addressing many of Farmers Union’s top concerns.
“In addition to its broader provisions to support unemployed and lower-income Americans, we appreciate the American Rescue Plan’s prioritization of rural and agricultural issues,” Larew said in a news release. “The pandemic has exposed many of the deep-seated weaknesses and inequities in our food system and in our communities.
“By building resilience across the food supply chain, supporting rural vaccine distribution, and offering historically disadvantaged farmers debt relief, this bill takes several steps towards more meaningful, enduring improvements.”
Direct payments in the amount of $1,400, expanded unemployment benefits and additional funding for areas including education, small business grants and local and state governments are among other provisions in the legislation.