WASHINGTON (AFP) – In a bid to win over voters in United States (US) farm states, US President Donald Trump announced up to USD14 billion in aid to farmers and ranchers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
With just six weeks left until the presidential election, Trump made the promise at a rally in Wisconsin late on Thursday, but the funds come from an existing programme and it is unclear how much additional money is left to spend.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided details on Friday of the new round of payments, which will distribute whatever funds remain from a replenishment provided by Congress to farmers unable to sell their products or who are facing higher costs.
“America’s agriculture communities are resilient, but still face many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
The second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is aimed at “agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19,” and will run through the end of the year, the statement said.
Congress provided another USD14 billion in July to the programme and USDA continues to process applications for that money, so it is unclear how much will remain to help farmers in the new round.
“We do not know exactly how much of that money will be left after applications have been processed. It would be irresponsible to count on this money for the second round of assistance before we have finished processing all applications,” a USDA spokesperson said.
The department said it listened to concerns from farmers and improved on the first round of the CFAP, which comprised USD9.5 billion in funding from the CARES Act that Congress approved in late April, and another USD6.5 billion from the USDA.
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said the additional support “is absolutely crucial” but must correct flaws in the initial design that favoured large farms over smaller ones and “sent millions of dollars to foreign-owned operations”.
In the second round, it is “just as crucial that it is distributed fairly and equitably”, Larew said in a statement.