The US House of Representatives passed HR 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – what does this mean for US agriculture?

March 12, 2021

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6 minute read

The USDA says the legislation is a crucial step in getting America’s economy back on track, getting kids back to school, getting all Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, and lifting millions out of poverty. Specifically, provisions under USDA jurisdiction will reduce nationwide hunger, strengthen the food supply chain, invest in rural America, and provide much-needed support to underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers.

Put food on the table

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 30 million adults and 12 million children may not always have access to nutritious food. The US bailout offers bold solutions that contribute to the goal of ending food insecurity by providing:

  • Access to the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program available for the duration of the health emergency, including all summer, to make it easier for families with children receiving school meals to purchase healthy food during the pandemic.
  • An extension of the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for all participants through September 30, 2021, or approximately $27 per month per person, with $1.15 billion allocated for the cost of state administrative expenses.
  • Investing in technology improvements to expand access for families to use their SNAP benefits to securely shop for groceries online.
  • $880 million to provide expanded access to more fruits and vegetables for mothers and babies and investments in innovation at the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
  • $37 million for nutrition for seniors through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
  • $1 billion in nutritional assistance for the territories.

Strengthening the food supply chain

  • To respond to food supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Rescue Plan is making long-term investments to increase the resilience of the food supply in the future:
  • Increases the food available for distribution through food banks, nonprofits, or restaurants to help feed families in need and, at the same time, supports farmers by purchasing their produce.
  • Provides grants and loans to repay or purchase personal protective equipment, test kits and other measures to keep essential food workers safe.
  • Invests in infrastructure and retooling support for food processors, farmers’ markets, food banks, local food systems and producers to build long-term food supply resilience.
  • Funds COVID-19 surveillance in animals and reduces overtime inspection fees paid by small meat and poultry processors, supporting livestock and animal health.

Supporting Farmers of Color

For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to achieve full success due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt. This struggle is exacerbated by a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 infection rates, property losses, hospitalizations, deaths and economic harm among socially disadvantaged groups. The US bailout is taking key steps to help marginalized communities through a different approach with:

  • $4 billion for Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Debt Relief to pay off the heavy debts that have prevented many farmers of color from earning a living or taking advantage of opportunities for growth or exploring value-added strategies.
  • $1.01 billion in funding to USDA to create a commission on racial equity and address long-standing discrimination within the USDA by investing in land access, awareness, education, help with barriers to accessing USDA programs, business development, etc.

Restore rural America

COVID-19 has had a lasting impact on rural America. Families have lost their homes, students have found unconventional solutions to access school work online, the need for food has reached an all-time high, and access to COVID-19 tests and vaccinations has been limited. The U.S. bailout implements funding that invests in the people of rural America:

  • $500 million in Community Facilities Program funds to help rural hospitals and local communities expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and food assistance.
  • $100 million through September 2022 in housing assistance for low-income and senior borrowers.
  • $39 million through September 2023 to help refinance direct loans under the Single Family Housing Loan Program and Single Family Home Repair Loans and Grants.

In addition to USDA-facilitated programs, the U.S. bailout includes significant investments in rural communities by expanding Internet connectivity and creating a Homeowners Assistance Fund to help homeowners struggling with mortgage payments, property taxes, property insurance, utilities and other housing-related costs.