Policy Update: Biden Signs American Rescue Plan Act
On March 10, Congress passed a new Coronavirus relief package, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which President Biden signed into law yesterday. This comes several days after the Senate passed a slightly modified version of the original House legislation with a party-line vote. In response to the passage of the new legislation, AFT released this statement.
Major provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act include:
- Extended unemployment benefits until September ($300 per week, instead of the original $400 proposed by the House)
- $1,400 stimulus checks (to be phased out at a lower income level than originally proposed by the House)
- Support for vaccine rollout
- Support for restaurants
- Additional nutrition assistance
- $350 billion to state and local governments
The $16 billion agriculture portion of the Act (full text here) includes:
- $3.6 billion to USDA for “food supply chain and agriculture pandemic response”, including purchasing commodities and making grants and loans to producers, small and mid-sized processors, farmers markets, and more. USDA would have broad discretion in implementing this funding.
- Farm loan assistance for farmers of color to forgive direct loans from the USDA Farm Service Agency, and loans guaranteed by the USDA. Although the legislation does not specify an amount for this provision, based on legislation Sen. Warnock introduced, this might be estimated at around $4 billion.
- $1 billion to support community-based organizations, 1890’s Land Grants, and other minority-serving institutions that work with farmers of color on land access, technical assistance, financial training, heirs’ property issues, farmer training, and access to education.
- $300 million for COVID-19 animal health surveillance.
- $100 million in overtime fee relief to small meat and poultry processors.
- $37 million to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
- Extended 15% SNAP benefit increase through September 30, 2021.
- $25 million to improve online purchasing of groceries with SNAP benefits.
- $500 million in Community Facility Program funds to help rural hospitals and local communities broaden access to COVID-19 vaccines and increase rural access to healthcare.
- $800 million for the Food for Peace program, including for purchases of U.S.-grown crops used in international humanitarian aid.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the provision for farmers of color which will forgive agricultural debt for “socially disadvantaged” farmers (defined here as farmers subject to racial or ethnic prejudice). Forgiveness could be for as much as 120% of the loan in order to offset tax implications. In total, the bill will provide an estimated $5 billion for these farmers.
These provisions were heavily influenced by Senator Warnock’s (D-GA) Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, introduced on February 8. However, the relief bill’s language is not identical. One major difference between the bills is the definition of a “qualified nonprofit” eligible to provide financial assistance and training, outreach, mediation, and other forms of technical assistance. Senator Warnock’s bill states that these nonprofits must have at least 3 years of experience, and must have at least 50% of its board of directors be members of a socially disadvantaged group. The House bill lists no such qualifications.