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Congress Funds Government, Additional COVID Aid to Wait Until After Election

October 2, 2020

Congress returned to D.C. for a quick session in September before adjourning for the fall campaign season. Members passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 11 but did not come to an agreement on another COVID-19 relief package.

The government funding measure includes an important provision that reimburses USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The CCC is used to fund programs critical to dairy producers, such as the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) and other risk management programs and, more recently, USDA’s Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. NMPF joined other agricultural stakeholders to urge Congress to include CCC reimbursement in the funding measure.

“We are glad Congress reached a government funding deal that provides important support to farmers and families who have weathered incredibly difficult challenges all year long,” said NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern in a news release after the measure’s approval Sept. 30. “This measure not only avoids a government shutdown; it also ensures that additional COVID-19 assistance can be provided as further needs arise and provides important nutrition assistance to families in need.”

The funding measure paves the way for a final agreement on Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations after the election. The House-passed Agriculture Appropriations measure contains multiple priorities for dairy, including a bipartisan amendment directing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allocate $5 million toward enforcing federal rules that reserve dairy-product terms for real dairy products. The bill also provides important funding for farmer stress programs, rural broadband, and nutrition assistance.

Congress did not agree on another round of COVID-19 relief, after months of discussions. Negotiations to resolve differences between the Democratic-controlled House measure, the HEROES Act, and various Senate Republican proposals stalled over disagreements on coronavirus-specific unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and other non-farm related issues.

The chambers’ plans agree more than they differ on dairy and agriculture provisions. The HEROES Act includes specific directives in how it funds USDA, including additional direct payments based on second-quarter losses without limits to those payments; $500 million for a new direct dairy donation program; $500 million for a new recourse loan program for dairy processors; and enhancements related to the Dairy Margin Coverage program. The Senate proposal provides $20 billion to USDA to support producers but gives less direction as to how the money should be spent.

The congressional sprint toward election day makes it unlikely that Congress will pass another COVID response bill anytime soon. NMPF will continue to work for further coronavirus relief for dairy, with the sector still reeling from coronavirus-related disruptions.

NMPF is advocating for emergency disaster assistance for dairy farmers that reflects losses regardless of an operation’s size or structure as well as additional direct dairy-product purchases for distribution to those in need, which will support communities and stabilize prices. NMPF also is working with members of Congress on a dairy donation program designed to maximize access to wholesome, dairy products for individuals and families facing food insecurity.

NMPF expects some type of additional support regardless of the outcomes of November’s election.