By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
After battling with fellow lawmakers earlier this week, the House Democratic leadership ultimately included a provision in a stopgap spending bill to ensure producers receive Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments on time.
The House on Sept. 19 passed a bill, known as a continuing resolution, to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1 by maintaining current spending levels until Nov. 21. The measure includes language that restores the Commodity Credit Corporation’s (CCC) $30 billion borrowing authority that USDA uses to make MFP payments. The legislation now goes to the Senate for approval.
Earlier this year, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the 2019 MFP package partially intended to compensate U.S. producers with commodities affected by retaliatory tariffs imposed by foreign countries, with total payments reaching up to $14.5 billion. About $12 billion in remaining MFP payments would have been delayed unless lawmakers lifted the CCC’s borrowing limit.
In the continuing resolution passed on Sept. 19, House lawmakers also require USDA to provide by Oct. 31 estimates for its MFP payments in calendar year 2018 and 2019, an analysis of the trade damage caused by retaliatory tariffs and by non-tariff trade barriers, as well as details about any commodity purchases made from foreign-owned companies, among other requirements.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., issued a statement praising Democratic leadership “for ensuring that farmers can have the certainty this assistance will continue.” He added: “The call for more transparency in this program is a good one, and I appreciate their willingness to ensure that help gets out the door in a timely manner to the farmers who need it, while at the same time enabling the taxpayer to see where those funds are going.”
House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., initially had proposed to leave out authority for MFP payments in the funding bill, but moderate and farm-state Democrats, including Peterson, issued statements saying that farmers should not be used as “political pawns” in political battles against the president’s trade strategy.
Peterson, along with House Agriculture Committee General Farm Commodities Subcommittee Chairman Filemon Vela, D-Texas, and House Agriculture Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa, D-Calif., issued a joint news release early in the week advocating language in the continuing resolution that would allow USDA to move forward with MFP payments.
“As members of Congress who represent agricultural communities, we repeatedly hear from farmers in our districts whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the ongoing trade wars,” Peterson, Vela and Costa said. “Although we mutually have concerns with President Trump’s approach to trade negotiations, we refuse to engage in the same tactics that punish our constituents and harm our communities that rely on agriculture. The upcoming CR (continuing resolution) should include the anomaly requested by USDA that would allow…access (to) the $30 billion in spending of the Commodity Credit Corporation prior to Oct. 1 to ensure that MFP and farm bill payments continue to go out. We cannot and will not allow our farmers to be used as political pawns.”
In a statement after Democratic leadership decided to allow the borrowing authority, senior House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., reasserted her concerns about the MFP program and demanded a briefing from USDA officials about how the funds are being distributed.
“The Administration’s broad and sustained use of CCC funds for agricultural programs are far beyond the size and scope of Congress’s original intent,” DeLauro wrote in a letter to Perdue, asking that Congress “be briefed as soon as possible as to the administration’s future plans to continue distributing direct assistance using CCC funds.”