Agriculture Responds to Senate Passage of $1.9T COVID-19 Package
On Saturday, the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The package, known as the American Rescue Plan, will extend federal unemployment benefits, offer up to $1,400 in direct payments to individuals earning less than $80,000, and increase funding for several nutrition assistance programs. Additionally, it authorizes several provisions to bolster rural and agricultural communities, including a pilot program to facilitate the distribution of vaccines and other medical supplies in rural areas, debt relief for historically disadvantaged farmers, and $4 billion to build resilience in the food system.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated, “I am grateful to the U.S. Senate” for passing the bill, adding the American Rescue Plan is historic, “namely for the transformative debt relief it provides to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and other farmers of color.”
Vilsack added USDA stands ready to these important provisions of the bill once it clears Congress and is signed into law by President Biden.
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said of Saturday's vote, ““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. The pandemic has exposed many of the deep-seated weaknesses and inequities in our food system and in our communities. For many years, Farmers Union members have been alarmed about the dramatic consolidation of food production, the failure to adequately fund rural health care systems, and the racial inequities that haunt our federal farm programs – problems that have been all but ignored by our elected representatives and federal officials.
“But after all these issues came to a head over the last year, it’s clear we can no longer afford to sweep them under the rug," Larew continued. "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. We commend the Senate for incorporating these important measures and encourage the House of Representatives to provide much-needed assistance by quickly approving this plan.”
“I would like to thank our colleagues in the Senate for providing a path forward for this critical relief to the American people and getting us one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us,” said House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott. “This relief package includes essential assistance that aims to address the inequities that have been laid to bare by this pandemic. It was absolutely essential that we extend the increase in SNAP benefits to our hungry, provide USDA with more resources to assist farmers, and very importantly, provide relief to farmers of color who were passed up on previous relief efforts.”
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