July 30, 2020
From Senator Gillibrand:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are calling for direct relief for small farmers who have been hit hard by months of closed restaurants, schools, and farmers markets. In a letter sent to Senate leadership, the senators urged the Senate to include the Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act in the next coronavirus response package. The comprehensive legislation would provide economic relief for small farmers suffering from massive financial losses due to reduced demand and supply chain disruptions during the pandemic. Currently, farm bankruptcies are at an eight year high and family farmers are carrying historical high debt. The financial struggles of more than 30,000 New York farmers has only been exacerbated by the current crisis and many will be unable to sustain their operations without federal relief. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act will support the nation’s most vulnerable farmers by alleviating debt, keeping farms open, and fortifying the nation’s food supply.
“The CARES Act does not go far enough to sustain small farms through this difficult time; they need urgent and direct loan forgiveness so they can continue maintaining operations, paying their workers, and keeping food on Americans’ tables,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This legislation will not only strengthen family farms but also bolster rural economies that have been devastated by this crisis. We must pass this legislation now so that we can keep small farmers in their homes and on their land. I will continue working with my colleagues to include the Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act in an upcoming relief package to ensure our farmers are not left behind.”
“Like other small businesses, family farmers in Oregon and nationwide are struggling to stay afloat during this challenging time. These small farms are the backbone of rural economies, supporting jobs that are desperately needed during this time of historically high unemployment,” Senator Wyden said. “Congress must step up and do more to help family farms weather this storm and keep rural communities strong.”
“Family farmers are the backbone of our rural economy, but many small farms were left out of recent relief funding,” said Senator Sanders. “We need to ensure that any COVID-relief package going forward includes help for the small, diversified farmers who are feeding their local communities.”
Family farms received minimal benefits through the SBA under the CARES Act and have struggled to access emergency federal farm aid allocated to USDA in the same coronavirus response package. Additional measures are needed to support small farms and keep them operating throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act would directly address this crisis by providing a one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000, across three types of USDA FSA loans: Direct Farm Operating, Direct Farm Ownership, and Emergency Loans. All small farms with an average adjusted gross income of up to $300,000 for the previous five years will be eligible, regardless of their commodities. Additionally, while many debt relief programs exclude farmers from future benefits, the legislation would ensure that farmers who receive debt forgiveness or write-downs maintain their eligibility for further USDA Direct and Guaranteed loans.
New York is home to one of the most diverse agricultural industries in the country and is largely composed of small and medium-sized family operations. However, even before the coronavirus outbreak, farmers across New York and the country faced economic hardship caused by tight margins, growing debt, natural disasters, and an unstable trade market. Over the years, farm bankruptcies have continued to rise, with many small farms just one natural disaster or bad farm season away from bankruptcy. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has become the bad season they feared, as closed schools, restaurants, farmers markets, have disrupted the nation’s food supply and devastated revenue streams for farmers in New York State. The Relief for America’s Small Farmer’s Act would help put farms back on the path to economic stability, while ensuring that relief is provided directly to the farmers that need it most.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Gillibrand has prioritized support for farmers throughout the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to introducing the Relief for America’s Small Farmer’s Act, she has called on the administration to support dairy producers and provide assistance under the CARES Act for local food producers who have experienced losses due to the coronavirus outbreak. Gillibrand also introduced the Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act which would support struggling farmers who lack buyers for their produce by giving food banks the power to purchase excess specialty crops directly from farmers.