May 29, 2020
As the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) begins to make funds available from the CARES Act $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) fears that the relief will not go to the producers hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic. While the CARES Act expressly stipulated that funds should be set aside for farmers growing for local markets, USDA made no mention of those producers in its application. In 2019, billions of dollars in federal aid for farmers impacted by trade war tariffs went primarily to large scale operations, including international corporations.
Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman, NFFC board president, said, “Just as Congress intended that small businesses should receive relief in the fourth COVID-19 package, USDA must ensure that small- and mid-scale producers are given priority to access relief payments from the farm portion of the CARES Act. Small farmers are small businesses too. This time, large corporate entities should not be first in line when small community-based farmers have suffered disproportionately.”
NFFC also points to the importance of the CFAP funding process addressing long-standing inequities in the farm economy, especially since the COVID-19 virus is disproportionately impacting African-American and other communities of color. This could include providing assistance to minority producers on their applications and transparent reporting on how funds are being distributed to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Farmer Ben Burkett, State Coordinator of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, said, “Lots of smaller farmers, especially African-American farmers, typically are not part of the Farm Services Agency system, but there must be accommodations for them to enroll in the program. Some heirs property owners who have worked their farms for the past seven years may not have the documentation to prove their eligibility, but they’re the ones who really need the assistance.”
NFFC calls for additional support for small-scale farmers in future COVID-19 relief packages, along with measures to avoid further corporate consolidation and to address long-standing inequities in our agriculture sector while rebuilding diversified local food systems.