President Donald Trump announced an $19 billion bailout package for farmers hurt financially by the coronavirus crisis.
The aid plan includes government purchases of meat, dairy products and other foods to bolster prices, along with direct payments to farmers to boost their income, the president said Friday at a White House briefing. The Agriculture Department will receive another $14 billion in July for further assistance.
“This will help our farmers and our ranchers and it’s money well deserved,” Trump said.
The combination of direct payments to farmers and bulk government purchases of commodities parallels the approach the Trump administration followed in its $28 billion agriculture trade bailout over the past two years. Farmers and rural communities are a critical part of Trump’s political base as he seeks re-election.
The commodities purchased will be distributed through food banks and other nutrition programs serving the poor, school children and the elderly, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said this week.
The USDA will make direct payments of $5.1 billion to cattle producers, $2.9 billion for dairy and $1.6 billion for hogs, according to a statement from Senator John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee.
Another $3.9 billion will go to producers of row crops such as soybeans, corn and cotton, $2.1 billion for producers of specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables and $500 million for other crops, Hoeven said.
The closing of restaurants, school cafeterias and other commercial food service operations has upended the market for agricultural products, particularly dairy, meat and produce. The food-service industry is a disproportionate buyer of cheese, butter, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers are dumping as much as 8% of their milk, according to the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative.
A shutdown of several slaughterhouses because of virus outbreaks among employees has further disrupted hog and cattle farmers’ ability to sell their livestock. At the same time, an oil price war forced ethanol plants to shut down, further depressing corn prices.
The coronavirus relief bill Congress passed last month included $23.5 billion in funds for aid to farmers. The remaining money is likely to be used for another round of aid, Perdue signaled in earlier comments.
(Updates spending plans in fifth paragraph.)
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