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Opinion

Guebert: COVID-19 relief packages

Just over two months ago, I was in D.C. testifying on behalf of Illinois farmers before the House Ways and Means Committee to address the implementation of China “Phase 1” trade deal. For now, those exports are stalled.

A month ago, we were entering our second week of the Illinois stay-at-home order.

As they say, change is constant, right?

To quote Thomas Paine’s 1776 quote during the Revolutionary War, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Might I edit with “everyone’s” souls — we are all testing our fortitude. I will say April 2020 was good to us in terms of field conditions for getting corn in the ground.

Considering the impact COVID-19 has had on our markets, April brought farmers and agriculture several wins despite these historic times. Following the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act on March 30, our Illinois Farm Bureau staff began breaking down the details of that legislation and streamlining the information on the COVID-19 resource page on our website.

That package was the foundation for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, allowing discretionary funds to be released to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The April 17 announcement of the $19 billion CFAP relief program opened the gateway for $16 billion in direct payments to farmers that have been impacted by food supply chain bottlenecks caused by COVID-19. The remaining $3 billion will be used to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat products.

Currently, those rules are being written and reviewed among the many agencies before signup can occur. Payments from those programs are anticipated in late May or early June.

A few days later, on April 23, we were relieved to see the swift action by the House and Senate to pass additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.

This significant package of $484 billion and passage of H.R. 266 further defined farmer eligibility for the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, provided additional funding for the PPP and includes necessary funding for hospitals and rural health clinics.

I, along with our IFB staff, have been working the phones and Zoom calls several times a day communicating our member needs with our congressional delegation, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, as well as USDA and White House officials. I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have farmers in key positions within USDA in today’s markets.

The results of those calls are reflected in the first round of federal assistance being focused on livestock producers, specialty growers and food banks. When it comes to Farm Bureau working on livestock issues, we’ve pushed for several communications on behalf of AFBF and other commodity groups.

At the suggestion of IFB, AFBF sent a letter asking that packing plants be considered critical federal infrastructure to Vice President Mike Pence. And on April 28, President Donald Trump issued the executive order deeming meat processing plants as critical infrastructure.

As we move through the coming months, we will be engaged in the discussions regarding the disparity between the farm level that producers receive and wholesale prices, as well as USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement that the USDA Packers and Stockyards Division will extend oversight to determine the causes and divergence between boxed and live beef prices.

The last seven years have been ugly in every sector of agriculture. All of agriculture is in dire straits — and we are working hard to mitigate this current situation.

I want to remind you again — as I have before — take time for yourself and check on your neighbors. We are all in this together. Agriculture will prevail despite these trying times.

Our county Farm Bureaus are working hard locally. They are there to answer questions you have. Reach out.

Take comfort in knowing a century-old organization has been through change before. We are here for you.

Richard Guebert Jr. is the president of Illinois Farm Bureau. His family farm in Randolph County grows corn, soybeans and wheat.

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