Policy Update: House Passes “HEROES” Act
Late Friday evening, the House passed the next round of coronavirus relief funding. Entitled the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions” Act – or HEROES for short – the 1,800-page bill would provide an additional $3 trillion in emergency funding, including additional support for agriculture. The in-person vote was largely along party lines, with the exception of 14 Democrats, and one Republican.
There is major uncertainty on what will happen next. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the Senate will not consider new legislation until the previous CARES Act funding has been further spent down, perhaps some time in June, and dismissed the HEROES legislation as a Democratic “wish list.” It is unclear if the Senate will feel pressure to take action before then, for instance if Small Business Administration funding (such as the PPP program) runs out again. The White House also issued a formal veto threat against the legislation last week.
In addition to voting on the stimulus package, the House also adopted House Resolution 965 (116), which will allow proxy voting and virtual committee meetings for the duration of the pandemic, and will authorize a committee to study the feasibility of remote voting. This vote was also primarily along party lines. The Senate is still requiring in-person voting for its members, which is made easier by its smaller size.
On a different note, on Friday the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). USDA is expected to post the rule very soon.
A summary of the new HEROES bill be found here. Below are the highlights:
- $875 billion for state and local governments
- $75 billion for testing and contact tracing
- Another round of $1,200 checks per individual
- $10 billion to small businesses that did not receive prior PPP support
- $10 billion to SNAP (benefits will be increased 15%)
- $150 million to food banks to help meet increased food assistance needs through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
- $16.5 billion for additional direct payments to producers of specialty crops, livestock, and other commodities to cover losses in response to the COVID–19 pandemic
- $100 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
- $50 million for the Local Agricultural Markets Program (LAMP) to support impacted local farmers
- $50 million to provide training, outreach, and technical assistance on operations, financing, and marketing to beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and veteran farmers and ranchers
- $28 million for block grants to state departments of agriculture
- $20 million for mental health services to farmers
- Payments to producers to offset losses from culling market-ready livestock and poultry due to insufficient processing capacity
- Direct assistance to ethanol producers, paying 45 cents/gallon for half the amount of fuel produced by the plant during the same month the previous year
- Makes changes to the Dairy Margin Protection Program, and authorizes a loan program for dairy processors, distributors, etc.
- Creates a $500 million Dairy Direct Donation Program to reroute surplus dairy to feeding programs
- Requires the Secretary of Agriculture to notify Congress before sending direct payments to producers via the Commodity Credit Corporation, and to report on various details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)
- Creates the Emergency Soil Health and Income Protection Pilot Programwhich authorizes USDA to enroll up to 5 million acres of cropland that has been planted for the previous 3 years. The program would require that land be planted with perennial cover for a three-year period (establishment of which could be reimbursed up to $30/acre), although it may still be harvested for hay, or grazed. The rental rate would be an additional $70/acre, all of which can be requested as an up-front payment. Enrollment will remain open until December 31, 2021.