USDA announces details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)

By Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

On April 17, 2020, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that USDA will use the funding and authorities provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and other USDA existing authorities to fund the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The program includes two major elements.  Secretary Perdue provided the following details about the program aimed at assisting farmers and ranchers as they struggle from the effects of the pandemic:

$16 billion in direct payments for farmers and ranchers: funded using the $9.5 billion emergency program in the CARES Act and $6.5 billion in Credit Commodity Corporation (CCC) funding. The program will provide direct support based on actual losses for agricultural producers where prices and market supply chains have been impacted and will assist producers with additional adjustment and marketing costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply for the 2020 marketing year caused by COVID-19.

  • $9.6 billion for the livestock industry
    • $5.1 billion for cattle
    • $2.9 billion for dairy
    • $1.6 billion for hogs
    • $3.9 billion for row crop producers
    • $2.1 billion for specialty crops producers
    • $500 million for other crops

Producers will receive a single direct payment determined using two calculations:

  • Price losses that occurred January 1-April 15, 2020. Producers will be compensated for 85% of price loss during that period.

  • Second part of the payment will be expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters and will cover 30% of expected losses.

  • The payment limit is $125,000 per commodity with an overall limit of $250,000 per individual or entity. Qualified commodities must have experienced a 5% price decrease between January and April.

  • USDA is expediting the rule making process for the direct payment program and expects to begin sign-up for the new program in early May and to get payments out to producers by the end of May or early June.

$3 billion in purchases of agriculture products: including meat, dairy and produce to support producers and provide food to those in need. USDA will partner with local food and regional distributors to deliver food to food banks, as well as community and faith-based organizations to provide food to those in need.  USDA will begin with the procurement of an estimated $100 million per month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month in a variety of dairy products, and $100 million per month in meat products. The distributors and wholesalers will then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to be distributed by these partner organizations to those in need.

USDA will also utilize other available funding sources to purchase and distribute food to those in need:

  • USDA has up to an additional $873.3 million available in Section 32 funding to purchase a variety of agricultural products for distribution to food banks. The use of these funds will be determined by industry requests, USDA agricultural market analysis, and food bank needs.

  • The FFCRA and CARES Act provided an at least $850 million for food bank administrative costs and USDA food purchases, of which a minimum of $600 million will be designated for food purchases. The use of these funds will be determined by food bank need and product availability.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the (CARES Act)

Neil Burnette and Clint Bain, Legislative Committee Co-Chairs

In response to the national crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed a massive stimulus package assisting both businesses and individuals. The stimulus package will impact the Farm Service Agency and our NASCOE membership.

Below is a brief summary of these provisions:

  • The bill provides $3 million for hiring temporary staff and paying for overtime expenses at the Farm Service Agency to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus. 
  • The bill includes a $14 billion boost in funding authority for USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. 
  • The legislation provides $9.5 billion for assisting livestock operations, including dairy farmers, as well as fruit-and-vegetable (specialty) crop producers. Farmers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools and restaurants would also be eligible for aid.
  • The bill allows the Secretary of Agriculture to extend the term of a marketing assistance loans for any commodity to 12 months.  The authority will expire September 30th, 2020.
  • The stimulus package provides payments to individuals based on your 2018 or 2019 adjusted gross income. The maximum amount you can receive is $1,200, or if married filing jointly, $2,400 per couple. That amount phases out for single filers with an AGI between $75,000 and $99,000, joint filers with an AGI between $150,000 and $198,000 and heads of household with an AGI between $112,500 and $146,500. Those who qualify for the $1,200 credit will also receive an additional $500 for each qualifying dependent 16 years old or younger. The stimulus money is technically a tax credit for 2020 that will be paid out, in advance, as soon as possible.  Individuals with direct deposits established with the IRS could see these deposits within a couple of weeks.

The Legislative team has been closely following this process and we will monitor how the department responds to these opportunities as a result of the increased funding.  We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

NASCOE Legislative Flash – Senate Vote on Continuing Resolution

Continuing Resolution Senate Vote
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant
November 21, 2019

By vote of 74-20, The U.S. Senate today passed a short-term measure to fund the government until December 20th, buying Washington four more weeks before the threat of another shutdown.  The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the continuing resolution. 

Since the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have both passed their versions of the Agriculture Appropriations bill, we are hopeful the two draft measures will be finalized in conference prior to the December 20th deadline. 

The NASCOE Legislative Team will continue to monitor the appropriations bill and keep the membership informed of any progress.

NASCOE Legislative Flash Update – November 19, 2019

Continuing Resolution Vote and NASCOE Preparations
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant
November 19, 2019

By a vote of 231 to 192, the House of Representatives today passed the continuing resolution to keep the government open through December 20, 2019.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor statement today that the Senate will pass the continuing resolution and President Trump will sign it.

The Leader also mentioned that talks continue regarding completion of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills.  As a reminder, the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have both passed the Agriculture Appropriations bill.  We are hopeful the two draft measures will be finalized before the December 20 deadline.

Although we have no indication a government shutdown is anticipated, Chris Lary, National Benefits/Emblems Chair, has been taking a proactive role to prepare in case there were to be a furlough.  Many employees have been contacted regarding what worked well last time and what didn’t work so well.  She has complied information in order to help mitigate the impact of a furlough.

The employee checklist for furlough has been reviewed, web links have been viewed and verified and NASCOE is prepared should the need arise to get membership information to assist them.

Please make sure your State President has your current home email address so that you will receive this information timely.

Congressional Agricultural Hearings — October 28, 2019

FSA County Office Employees are facing challenging times.  You are administering more programs from various software platforms than ever before.  You face these challenges head on each day with fewer employees than we have ever had.  NASCOE understands you are struggling to meet the daily demands of providing an ever-increasing array of programs while maintaining the same quality of service your customers expect and deserve.

Your NASCOE team has worked diligently with the FSA Administration to increase staffing in field offices.  We supported the development of a work measurement tool to support our case for additional staffing, however the administration continues to withhold the full results of the workload model.  Members of Congress have also requested on multiple occasions and been denied this information from the Department.

NASCOE continues to work with concerned members of Congress to provide additional funding for FSA salaries and expenses.  Congress has responded and provided their support.  They are concerned about the American Farmers who depend on you to deliver the farm programs passed by Congress to help keep rural America strong.  Due to these concerns, both Houses of Congress have recently held hearings on the 2018 Farm Bill Implementation.  They have asked the tough questions regarding FSA county offices being properly staffed so employees have the ability to administer these farm programs.

On September 19, 2019, Under Secretary Bill Northey testified at a joint House hearing of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee and Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee to Review the Implementation of Federal Farm and Disaster Programs. You can view the hearing by clicking on the following link.

The hearing is 3 hours long so you may want to skip ahead to the following points indicated below to hear the items that best reflect the issues that NASCOE has been working closely with members of the House on:

1:06 – Congressman Peterson – Staffing concerns and part time offices

1:12 – Congressman Conway – 2018 Farm Bill implementation

1:15 – Congressman Peterson – Employment application process

On October 17th, Deputy Secretary Censky provided testimony and answered questions at a hearing held by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.  Below is a link to the page where you can watch this hearing.

Implementing the 2018 Farm Bill | The United States Senate Committee On Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry

You may want to skip to the following times which highlight the committees concerns about the status of FSA staffing:

0:36 – Senator Hoeven – FSA office staffing

1:21 – Senator Hyde Smith – Asks questions concerning the current law prohibiting the closure of any FSA county office without prior congressional approval, and prohibiting the relocation of any staff that results in an office with two or fewer employees

FSA programs are discussed at various points throughout both hearings.  Please take time to look at the clips from the hearings to see how NASCOE and Congress are working together to address these concerns with USDA.  We believe you will find that Congress is very aware of the lack of hiring going on in FSA across the nation.  You will also see how much Congress appreciates the work that our members do for American agriculture in county offices across this nation each day.

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020 Hunter Moorehead, Legislative Consultant

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020
Hunter Moorehead, Legislative Consultant

The House of Representatives and U.S. Senate approved legislation funding the government at current levels through November 21. This allows our employees to continue working without any lapse of federal appropriations.

The bill includes language allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to continue disbursing Commodity Credit Corporation funds for the Market Facilitation Program. This will ensure farmers continue to receive financial assistance.

Our legislative committee is working to educate legislators about the need for additional salaries and expenses funding for the next fiscal year. In addition, Members of Congress continue to highlight FSA’s field office staffing needs and the inability to adequately deliver farm programs.

The agency has completed the new workload analysis and our farmers deserve better customer service. We believe field office staff numbers are short over 2,000 FTEs. The time has come for the USDA to give us the tools necessary to deliver farm programs.

2020 Appropriations Update

2020 Appropriations Update
September 11, 2019
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

On June 25th, the full House voted 227-194 to approve the fiscal year 2020 Agriculture appropriations bill which included an increase in FSA salaries and expenses of 3.8 % or $ 41 million. The Senate has yet to act on any 2020 appropriation measures. Due to this lack of progress, the House is planning to move a continuing resolution next week that will run through November 21st or 22nd, or through December 6th. It appears November 21st or 22nd will the most likely choice, but we are told the decision has not been made yet. At this time, we do not expect that the government will face another shutdown. With an election year coming up, we do not feel that anyone in Congress will have the stomach to add this as an issue for voters to take sides on.

The Senate planned on moving 4 bills this week through subcommittee and full committee appropriations. Democrats met Monday night, and decided they wanted to push back on anticipated allocations in domestic discretionary as well as on some issues important to their base (border wall restrictions, abortion/title X, etc.). There is a divide between members who want to work with the majority and address their concerns through the process (in conference) and those who want to begin fighting on every appropriations bill immediately.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell reiterated on the Sunday news programs his intention is to only pass appropriations bills in the Senate acceptable to the President.

The plan had been to mark up four bills this week (DoD, E&W, LHHS, SFO), four next (Ag, FS, MilCon/VA, THUD), and four the following week (CJS, DHS, Interior, Leg Branch). Chairman Shelby and Senate Republican Leadership hoped to have the first four bills on the Senate floor next week (9/16-9/20). Absent some agreement between Chairman Shelby, Ranking Member Leahy and Senate Leadership, the FY 2020 appropriations schedule appears to be moving further down the calendar.

NASCOE fully understands that our members will have concerns, especially considering the events last year. We will continue to closely monitor the appropriations process and will keep membership apprised as new developments arise.

Photos of NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs Clint Bain and Neil Burnette.

$19.1 Billion Disaster Bill Heads to President’s Desk

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant
June 5, 2019

Below are the highlights of the disaster aid package previously passed by the Senate, passed by the House earlier this week, and is now awaiting the President’s signature:

Title I – Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

  • Agricultural Programs — $3.005 billion. Payments for crop and livestock losses due to hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic activities, tornadoes, floods, snowstorms, or wildfires during 2018 and 2019. 
     
  • Emergency Forest Restoration Program — $480 million.  Assistance to owners of private forests to restore disaster-damaged forests. 
     
  • Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations — $435 million. Financial and technical assistance to states and local sponsors to protect and restore watersheds.
     
  • Emergency Conservation Program — $558 million. Provides emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.
     
  • Rural Community Facilities Program — $150 million.  Grants for facilities to provide health care, education, public safety, and public services to rural communities.
     
  • Nutrition Assistance Program for Puerto Rico — $600 million.  Additional funding to continue disaster nutrition benefits in Puerto Rico during its recovery from Hurricane Maria. 
     
  • Nutrition Assistance Program for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) — $25.2 million.  Additional funding for nutrition benefits in CNMI following typhoons in September and October.
     
  • Nutrition Assistance for America Samoa — $18 million for disaster nutrition assistance for American Samoa.
     
  • Study of Puerto Rico disaster nutrition assistance — $5 million for a study of the disaster nutrition assistance provided to the Commonwealth in 2017.

The Bill also includes:  

  • Provides trade mitigation assistance through the Market Facilitation Program to producers who derive at least 75 percent of their adjusted gross income from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities. 
  • Establishes crop insurance for hemp products.
  • Allows certain California communities affected by 2018 wildfires to be eligible for USDA Rural Development programs until 2020 Census data is available.
Photos of Donny Green and Neil Burnette, NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs.

NASCOE Legislative Update: May 17, 2019

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant
May 17, 2019

The current work period has proven active for agricultural policy proposals and related oversight hearings. The below provides an update of certain activities that impact FSA programs and employees.

Disaster Assistance — The House of Representatives, on May 10, passed legislation providing assistance for 2018 and 2019 hurricanes, wildfires floods and related disasters. The Senate is currently negotiating with the House to finalize what will become the final legislation. The Senate is expected to debate disaster assistance next week. The House details are summarized below for your review. 

House Passed Bill:

  • $3.005 billion for crop and livestock losses for 2018 and 2019
  • $480 million for Emergency Forest Restoration Program
  • $125 million for Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations
  • $500 million for Emergency Conservation Program
  • $600 million for Puerto Rico nutrition assistance
  • $25 million for Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands nutrition assistance
  • $5 million for American Samoa nutrition assistance
  • $5 million to study Puerto Rico nutrition assistance provided during 2017
  • Market Facilitation Program payment limitation language:
    • $900,000 and 75% from agriculture AGI payment limitation
    • $125,000 payment cap

Market Facilitation Program — The Secretary of Agriculture recently commented that USDA will provide another round of trade assistance. Our contacts believe the total assistance will range between $15 and 20 billion. It is likely that payment rates for specific commodities will be adjusted compared to 2018. Once available, we will provide additional details. 

Federal Appropriations — The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to consider the fiscal year 2020 bill on Thursday, May 23. Our meetings with Members and staff have been productive but didn’t provide any details about funding levels. Currently, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, June 11.

H.R. 2478 Federal Retirement Fairness Act — Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) has introduced legislation allowing former temporary employees, in a temporary position after December 31, 1988, to be credited for service under FERS. Unlike previous legislation, this proposal is more favorable by not requiring significant investment by individual employees while giving workers additional credit toward retirement. We will continue to monitor this legislation that could potentially impact many of our members.

Executive Order Signed for Pay Increase

March 29, 2019

Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees, retroactive to January.

It is speculated the addition of six new locality pay areas played a part in the delay of releasing the updated pay tables. The tables have now been updated and released.

As of last night, OPM still would not detail exactly when federal employees would see the raise reflected on their paycheck.

Below are links to the new pay tables and the Executive Order:

2019 General Schedule Locality Pay Tables:

https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2019/general-schedule/

Executive Order:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-adjustments-certain-rates-pay-2/

Neil Burnette & Donny Green
NASCOE Legislative Committee Co-Chairpersons