March 10, 2021

US Congress passes $1.9 trillion aid package; Ag Secretary Vilsack issues statement

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued the following statement March 10 on passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act by the U.S. Congress.

The bill passed in the House by a vote of 220-211, with Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd district as the lone Democrat to vote against. No Republicans voted for the bill’s passage.

The bill now goes to President Biden for his signature. (See selected USDA highlights below Vilsack’s statement.)

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

“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. Thanks to passage of the American Rescue Plan today, 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 American Rescue Plan boosts SNAP benefits for food insecure families; it expands resources to mothers and young children to purchase healthy, fresh foods; and delivers badly-needed nutrition aid to U.S. territories. It also 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. America’s farmers, ranchers and producers will reap the benefits of the American Rescue Plan as more resources flow through the economy, as more businesses open up, spurring greater demand for American food and agricultural products.

“In rural America, the American Rescue Plan provides significant investments to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages, property taxes and property insurance. It expands rental assistance. It funds broadband to schools and hospitals and other community facilities.

“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. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering that this pandemic has wrought in communities of color. The American Rescue Plan answers that call to action.”

Food aid

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 30 million adults and 12 million children may not always have access to nutritious food. The American Rescue Plan provides:

  • Access to the Pandemic EBT (P-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.
  • An extension to the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) 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.
  • Investments in technological improvements to expand access for families to use their SNAP benefits to purchase groceries safely online.
  • $880 million to deliver expanded access to more fruits and vegetables for moms and babies and investments in innovation to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • $37 million for senior nutrition through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
  • $1 billion in nutrition assistance for the territories.

Strengthening the supply chain

To respond to disruptions in the food supply chain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Rescue Plan makes long-term investments to increase the resiliency of the food supply in the future:

  • 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 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 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, business development and more.

Restoring rural America

COVID-19 has had a lasting impact on rural America. Families have lost their homes, students have resulted to unconventional solutions to access schoolwork online, the need for food has been at an all-time high, and access to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations have been limited. The American Rescue Plan implements funding that invests in the people of Rural America:

  • $500 million in Community Facility Program funds to help rural hospitals and local communities broaden access to COVID-19 vaccines and food assistance.
  • $100 million through September 2022 in rental assistance for low-income and elderly borrowers.
  • $39 million through September 2023 to help refinance direct loans under the Single-Family Housing Loan Program and the Single-Family Housing Repair Loans & Grants.

In addition to programs facilitated by USDA, the American Rescue Plan provides significant investments into rural communities by expanding internet connectivity and establishing a homeowner assistance fund to assist struggling homeowners with mortgage payments, property taxes, property insurance, utilities and other housing related costs.

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