Monday, March 30, 2020

What's in the virus-relief bill for agriculture and rural areas? For one thing, first disaster-aid money for local food

On Friday President Trump signed a $2 trillion spending bill aimed at providing relief to Americans struggling from the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some of the provisions with rural resonance.

Most Americans will receive direct payments: individuals up to $1,200, couples twice that, plus $500 per child. Individuals with pre-tax incomes above $75,000 will get progressively less, and those who make more than $99,000 won't get anything. Those thresholds are doubled for married couples, CNN reports in a story that includes a calculator to see how much you qualify for.

"The bill provides $15.8 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to cover an expected jump in applications as more workers are laid off. But Democrats were unable to secure the 15 percent boost to households’ SNAP benefits they were seeking as a tradeoff for additional farm aid," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture.

"The Depression-era financial institution known as the Commodity Credit Corporation would see its spending authority replenished to the tune of $14 billion," McCrimmon reports. The CCC has been the source of funds for President Trump's compensation to farmers for his trade war. "The package also sets up a $9.5 billion emergency fund for producers, including fresh fruit and vegetable growers, dairy farmers and cattle ranchers, along with local food systems like farmers markets." The bill is the first disaster-relief package to explicitly include local and regional food markets, Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition told McCrimmon.

The package includes $150 billion for hospitals and medical workers. "Hospitals and health systems will get $100 billion in emergency grants. Billions more will provide protective equipment for medical workers, ventilators for patients, testing supplies and new construction to house patients," Paige Winfield Cunningham reports for The Washington Post. Hospitals will get a 20 percent increase in Medicare payments for treating covid-19 patients, Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes report for Politico. Telehealth services, a great help in rural areas, will get $200 million.

State and local governments will receive $150 billion in relief funds, with $8 billion set aside for local governments, Emma and Scholtes report. The package also expands unemployment eligibility and offers recipients an extra $600 a week for four months, on top of whatever state programs pay. And employers and self-employed individuals will be able to defer the 6.2% Social Security tax they pay on wages, half until the end of the year and the rest until the end of 2022.

The Small Business Administration will get 367 billion for loans to small businesses, with a six-month forbearance clause. The Treasury Department will oversee a $500 billion loan and loan-guarantee program; $425 billion is meant to go to businesses, cities and states. The rest is reserved for passenger and cargo airlines and firms deemed important to national security, the Post reports.

Native American tribes will receive $10 billion, with more than $1 billion of that going to the Indian Health Service. The package also specifies that tribes will be eligible for federal loans to help pay tribal employees, The Associated Press reports.

The petroleum industry got no specific help in the stimulus package, but may get some in a future stimulus package, Dino Grandoni reports for the Post's Energy 202. Coal tried and failed to get aid.

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