USDA Targets More Farmers in New $12 Billion Covid Aid Round

Bloomberg | By Mike Dorning | March 24, 2021

The Biden administration announced $12 billion in new farm aid, and said it will seek to expand Covid assistance to producers that weren’t covered under the Trump administration’s pandemic relief programs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday it would devote $6 billion to expand Covid support to additional recipients, including renewable fuel producers, specialty crop and organic farmers, timber harvesters, and support for the food chain.

The department will also reopen applications for the last round of Covid farm assistance and spend $2.5 million on more outreach to minority communities. Democrats and advocates for smaller producers have criticized the Trump trade and Covid farm bailouts for concentrating benefits on the nation’s largest producers. On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack criticized disparities in aid distribution under those previous efforts.

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance,” Vilsack said. The new round of relief “will help get financial assistance to a broader set of producers, including to socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.”

Just 1% of farm aid recipients collected nearly a quarter of bailout payments, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

Less than 1% of payments made in the first two rounds of Covid farm aid went to producers who collectively identified themselves as Black, Asian or Native American, according to USDA spokesman Matt Herrick. About three quarters of the payments were made to producers who didn’t identify their race.

The new round also includes $1.1 billion in aid for cattle producers and an additional $4.5 billion for new $20-an-acre payments to producers of major crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton.

The funding was provided by Congress in Covid relief measures passed last year. The current administration paused payments to review the programs when Biden took office.

Some of the new aid will require new regulations that will be issued this spring, according to the USDA announcement.