Recapping the Federal Farm and Food Policy Pandemic Response

Posted on Thursday, May 6th, 2021 by Guest Blogger
Steven Sinton Ranch in Templeton, California. Photo Credit: USDA NRCS

The COVID-19 pandemic has been ongoing for nearly 15th months. This blog recaps pandemic-related food and farm policy and is reposted from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which CalCAN is a member. NSAC advocates for federal policy reform for the sustainability of food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. See the original post here

It can be hard to remember all the different pieces of the federal farm and food policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we’ve compiled a timeline beginning in March of 2020. The list includes the relevant major pieces of legislation and most relevant USDA relief programs in an effort to be brief.

  • March 6, 2020 – Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act – $8.3 Billion for vaccine development, public health response, telemedicine, and medical supplies
  • March 18, 2020 – Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) – $192 Billion for paid sick leave, family leave, expanded unemployment insurance, and added resources for WIC, school meal programs, TEFAP, P-EBT, and commodity purchases
  • March 27, 2020 – Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – $2.2 Trillion for payments to individuals, enhanced unemployment benefits, creation of the Paycheck Protection Program, loans to businesses and state and local governments
  • April 24, 2020 – Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act
  • April 17, 2020 – USDA announces the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP-1) – estimated $16 Billion, including direct payments to producers and the Farmers to Families Food Box (F2FFB) program
  • May 15 – June 30, 2020 – F2FFB distributes 35.7 million food boxes
  • May 19, 2020 – USDA announces details of CFAP-1
  • June 4, 2020 – USDA begins issuing CFAP-1 payments
  • July 1 – August 31, 2020 – F2FFB distributes 50.8 million food boxes
  • July 9, 2020 – USDA expands eligible commodities for CFAP-1
  • August 11, 2020 – USDA further expands eligible commodities for CFAP-1
  • September 1 – September 18, 2020 – F2FFB distributes 15.2 million food boxes
  • September 11, 2020 – CFAP-1 closes for most states
  • September 18, 2020 – USDA announces CFAP-2 ($14 Billion est.)
  • September 21, 2020 – USDA opens CFAP-2 program
  • September 22, 2020 – USDA releases CFAP-2 rule
  • September 22 – October 31, 2020 – F2FFB distributes 18.8  million food boxes
  • October 9, 2020 – CFAP-1 closes for Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas
  • November 1 – December 31, 2020 – F2FFB distributes 12.4 million food boxes
  • December 11, 2020 – CFAP-2 closes for most states
  • December 27, 2020 – Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 – $2.3 Trillion combining $1.4 Trillion omnibus spending with $900 Billion for coronavirus response of which $12 Billion was dedicated to agricultural programs and supports
  • January 15, 2021 – USDA revises CFAP-2 to include support for contract livestock producers, and supplemental payments on hogs and row crops
  • January 28, 2021 – CFAP payments suspended
  • March 11, 2021 – American Rescue Plan – Passed by Reconciliation – $1.9 Trillion to provide aid to state and local governments, a second round of direct payments to individuals, support for schools, expanded unemployment insurance, healthcare and vaccine funding, rental assistance, $3.6 Billion to support farmers, market operators, and food processors, and FSA debt forgiveness for BIPOC producers
  • March 24, 2021 – USDA announces $12 Billion for Pandemic Assistance to Producers (PAP) including reopening CFAP-2, additional payments to row crop (from CFAP-2) and cattle producers (from CFAP-1), funding for existing programs, and resources to assist in outreach to producers
  • March 30, 2021 – Paycheck Protection Program Extension – Extends PPP for 2 months
  • April 5, 2021 – USDA reopens CFAP-2 and announces funding to organizations to assist socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers under PAP
  • April 15, 2021 – USDA announces intention to end the F2FFB program
  • January 19 – April 30, 2021 – F2FFB distributes 26.1 million food boxes (pending final invoicing)

The American Rescue Plan

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 is a $2 Trillion, wide-ranging response to the ongoing pandemic that was passed and enacted into law in March 2021. The bill contains provisions that provided for additional $1,400 direct payments to individuals, and extensions of enhanced unemployment insurance, SNAP and WIC benefits, and eviction and foreclosure protection for some families. For the farm and food system, ARP also contained provisions to forgive $4 Billion in FSA held debt for BIPOC farmers and ranchers, and roughly $4 Billion to purchase additional commodities for emergency food assistance, strengthen supply chains, support small processors by assisting with overtime costs, and expand online SNAP purchasing technology. More details on the ARP can be found in our previously published blog here.

Pandemic Assistance for Producers

Once ARP had been passed, USDA began moving quickly to establish a program to replace CFAP-2 and announced the new Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) program less than two weeks later. PAP includes several elements that are mandatory Congressional directives from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (passed in December but not yet implemented) including:

  • Enhanced payment rates for cattle producers (from the CFAP-1 program) totaling $1.1 Billion for 410,000 producers
  • Additional fixed, $20 per acre payments to row crop producers (from the CFAP-2 program) totaling $4.5 Billion to 560,000 producers
  • Adjustments to CFAP-2 program formulas, farmer revenue calculations, and additional payments to swine producers

Payments to cattle and row crop producers under the CFAP-2 program have already started, while other payment adjustments for specialty crop and swine producers are currently in process.

Where USDA had more program flexibility, and unexpended funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and new money from ARP, they began working to design a program to support producers directly and begin investments in food system infrastructure and capacity. To start, USDA reopened CFAP-2 for new applications for at least 60 days and made $2.5 Million available to grassroots organizations to assist with outreach to social disadvantaged farmers who may not have applied during the previous open period.

Farmers Harvesting Zucchini, photo courtesy of NSAC

With $6 Billion in total funding for PAP programs, USDA began holding listening sessions with producers, grower groups, farm advocates, and conservation groups where they sought input on how the major elements of CFAP-2 (direct payments to farmers and the food box program) could be further improved to reach small-scale, local, organic, and BIPOC producers who have struggled to secure COVID support under the previous Administration.

Another element of the PAP is $500 Million for existing USDA programs including, the Specialty Crop Block Grant, the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, as well as several more. While vital, these additional investments led to an unusual situation where several grant programs with open Requests for Proposals (RFPs) had to be modified very quickly which led to some confusion among the applicants as not all grant funding had the same requirements and cost share obligations. NSAC and many other groups worked with USDA to provide stakeholder input to facilitate a clear and orderly process, but the 2021 grant cycle for several programs is highly irregular and continues to evolve.

What Comes Next?

Much of the PAP program is still in development and we will not know its full scope for several more weeks. NSAC has provided several proposals to the Administration to improve upon the framework provided by CFAP-2 including:

  • expanded opportunity for producers of high value crops and livestock (eg organic or pasture raised) to access the revenue based payment program option
  • rigorous analysis of FSA conduct in future payment rounds
  • enhanced outreach and language options for underserved communities, and
  • additional dedicated funding for BIPOC producers.

Even as USDA continues work to build out PAP, a great deal of attention amongst policy makers and advocates is turning to the next Reconciliation package. It seems likely that the Administration will continue to work to build support for their America Jobs Act, a $2.25 Trillion infrastructure bill, or a bipartisan compromise package alternative to fund traditional infrastructure investments in roads, dams, bridges, airports, energy grids, as well as telecommunications networks to achieve universal broadband access. If there is no bipartisan consensus proposal that can secure 60 votes in the Senate, it is very likely that the Administration will work with Congressional leaders to pass the majority of the American Jobs Act by Reconciliation – as they did with the American Rescue Plan last month. It also seems likely that if Congress chooses to move this spending package by Reconciliation, they may consider merging it with the American Families Plan, another package of spending proposed by the Administration to support working families with provisions to improve access to childcare, universal pre-kindergarten, paid family leave, and free community college tuition.

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