Livestock producers will see some relief from losses incurred by the coronavirus pandemic if the $2 trillion economic stimulus package makes it to President Trump’s desk.
The third emergency relief bill is expected to pass the Senate today but has to gain the approval of the House.
The bill would provide $14 billion to enhance the Commodity Credit Corporation, which finances USDA programs including price supports.
It would also provide a separate $9.5 billion for livestock producers, specialty crops and local food systems.
The CCC has the authority to borrow up to $30 billion at any one time from the U.S. Treasury to facilitate USDA programs.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association had asked Congress to raise that borrowing authority to $50 billion and ensure cattle producers were eligible for assistance through CCC-funded programs, Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs, said.
“Congress did not do that. Instead they gave us a separate pot of money,” he said.
Cattle producers will be able to get some relief from the $9.5 billion. NCBA is still waiting to see what that relief will look like, he said.
It’s also waiting to see what form the CCC funding will take. Part of the issue historically is that cattle producers have not been eligible for direct payments through the CCC, which does provide payments for row crops, he said.
Estimates of losses to cattle producers are still being compiled. Some senators had put it as high as $10 billion, and NCBA knows it’s at least $5 billion, he said.
The job ahead will be to do the calculations and decide who gets what and how to get it to producers who need it, he said.
“That will be the objective. If we’re handing out a couple of billions of dollars, we want to make sure it goes to people who are in need,” he said.
Direct payment to cattle producers was NCBA’s goal all along. Money for government purchases of beef is not going to be helpful, he said.
“People are buying beef, demand is high,” he said.
It’s the producers out in the country who need assistance, he said.
“Packers are doing fine. We want to make sure our members, producers, are whole here,” he said.
NCBA expected the Senate to pass the bill March 25, and then the House has to weigh in and figure out what to do because the House is not convened, he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could call for unanimous consent, and 435 House members would have to vote to move the bill forward, he said.
“That’s a big ask,” he said.
If any Congressman objects, the bill would either die or House members would be called back to Washington to deliberate, he said.
NCBA is hoping the House will move on the bill by the end of the week, he said.
Dairy and pork groups issued statements expressing their gratitude for the stimulus package and the need for assistance.
National Milk Producers Federation said the essential funding will boost finances and morale at a crucial time.
“Forecasts for milk prices have dropped significantly in the past month, with greater declines possible as the COVID-19 outbreak continues,” Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said.
National Pork Producers Council said pork producers have already suffered losses due to COVID-19-related concerns.
“These new financial setbacks come on the heels of two very difficult years in which pork was at the tip of the retaliation spear,” Howard “A.V.” Roth, NPPC president, said.