Ag secretary believes Biden plan will help farmers, rural communities

President Joe Biden’s signature on a $1.9 trillion spending plan has benefits for farmers and ranchers and rural communities, according to Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, who applauded the American Rescue Act.

“President Biden wasted no time fulfilling his pledge to the American people to bring substantial financial relief within the first 100 days of his administration,” Vilsack stated in a press release. “Thanks to passage of the American Rescue Plan [March 10], help is on the way. The American Rescue Plan will jolt our economy back to life, get money into the hands of struggling Americans, get our children back to school safely, get COVID-19 vaccinations out more swiftly, and get nutrition assistance to millions of food insecure Americans.”

The act increases access to the Pandemic EBT program available for the duration of the health emergency, including through the summer, to allow families with children receiving school meals to purchase healthy food more easily during the pandemic. It also provides an extension to the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for all participants through Sept. 30, 2021, or about $27 per month per person, with $1.15 billion allocated for the cost of state administrative expenses.

Helping the needy, boosting farmers

The plan increases food available for distribution through food banks, nonprofits, or restaurants to help feed families in need and at the same time supports farmers by purchasing their products.

• Provides grants and loans to reimburse or purchase personal protective equipment, test kits, and other measures to keep essential food workers safe.

• Invests in infrastructure and retooling support for food processors, farmers markets, food banks, local food systems, and producers to build resiliency in the food supply for the long term.

• Funds the monitoring of COVID-19 in animals and reduces overtime inspection fees paid by small meat and poultry processors, supporting livestock and animal health.

Supporting farmers of color

For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt. This struggle is exacerbated by a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 infection rates, loss of property, hospitalizations, death and economic hurt amongst socially disadvantaged groups.

“The American Rescue Plan provides historic debt relief to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other farmers of color who for generations have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt,” Vilsack said. “We cannot ignore the pain and suffering that this pandemic has wrought in communities of color.”

The American Rescue plan takes key steps in assisting marginalized communities through a different approach with:

• $4 billion toward debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers to pay off burdensome debts that have prevented many farmers of color from making a living or taking advantage of opportunities to grow or explore value-added strategies.

• $1.01 billion in funding to USDA to create a racial equity commission and address longstanding discrimination across USDA by investing in land access, outreach, education, assistance overcoming barriers to access to USDA programs and business development.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].