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House Passes Stimulus Bill
Monday, March 30, 2020 9:42AM CDT
By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- The House of Representatives on Friday passed the $2.2 trillion stimulus package dubbed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, sending the legislation to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Agriculture is among the industries with aid set aside, which includes providing USDA $14 billion more in funding authority under the Commodity Credit Corp., allowing USDA to craft an aid package to farmers who have seen commodity prices crash since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The bill passed the House by a voice vote despite concerns raised by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who drew the ire of both colleagues and President Trump for stalling the legislation. Massie's procedural moves led to four hours of floor debate, then he called for a roll-call vote though that request was denied. On Twitter, Trump called Massie "a grandstander" and suggested Massie be thrown out of the Republican Party. Lawmakers from both parties cheered on the House floor after the bill passed.

Senators had passed the legislation late Wednesday night.

Agricultural groups representing various commodities had praised Congress for crafting the legislation earlier in the week, recognizing how grains, livestock and specialty crops had all been affected in different ways by the economic shutdown caused by the virus.

Overall, the bill provides USDA roughly $48.9 billion to respond to the coronavirus, along with added funding for the Food and Drug Administration as well. The legislation also includes a $9.5 billion assistance program that would more directly support livestock operations, including dairy farmers, as well as specialty crop producers. Farmers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools and restaurants would also be eligible for aid.

The bill includes $15.5 billion for USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the single-largest food-aid program in the country. Child nutrition programs would receive another $8.8 billion, and there are special provisions to distribute food aid on Native American reservations as well.

USDA's Rural Development programs would receive $25 million for distance learning and telemedicine programs. Lawmakers cited the value in boosting telemedicine as a way to treat patients without possibly spreading of the disease for people who do not need hospitalization. Another $100 million would also go to further boost rural broadband as well.

Nationally, the bill creates a $500 billion direct corporate aid program. Small businesses would have access to roughly $367 billion in loan programs with the caveat that they keep their workers during the coronavirus crisis. If employers continue paying workers, the loans would be forgiven. The bill also includes $25 billion directly for the airline industry.

Beyond loans, the bill would allow the Small Business Administration to provide $10,000 grants to small businesses as well.

The bill includes direct aid that will be sent to American families as well. Individual taxpayers would receive checks of $1,200 per year if they earned less than $75,000, which would be based on the adjusted gross income of taxpayers based on 2018 or 2019 tax returns. Married couples earning less than $150,000 would receive $2,400 and every child claimed on a tax return would be worth another $500.

To deal with the ramifications for health care from the coronavirus, the bill also would provide $130 billion for hospitals as well as $150 billion for state and local governments. For certain rural hospitals classified as Critical Access Hospitals, the bill would boost Medicare payments to 125% of medical costs for at least a six-month period. The White House had already ordered that Critical Access Hospitals also could expand their beds to deal with the potential rise in patients.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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