Supporters say a bill passed Wednesday would help farmers, producers, processors and grocers grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), who sponsors the omnibus supplemental agriculture finance bill, said it addresses issues that were important before the COVID-19 pandemic, but have been exacerbated by the situation.
Passed 133-1 by the House, HF4490 now goes to the Senate where Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) is the sponsor.
“This bill and these funds do not fully address the needs of our farmers and producers, but they do provide support and assistance during these extremely challenging times,” Poppe said.
Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) said the bill recognizes the difficulties the agriculture industry faces, such as pigs being euthanized and milk prices dropping substantially.
A third-generation farmer who hopes his daughter will continue farming, Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley) said the bill will help other farmers continue to farm.
The bill calls for $600 million in assistance. Poppe said a number of pandemic-related provisions are expected to be reimbursed by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
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Among the changes, the bill would:
specify that $675,000 of the $900,000 allocation in fiscal year 2021 to the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer program at the University of Minnesota is for Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory testing equipment and supplies
necessary to respond to avian influenza;
increase 2021 funding by $200,000 for assistance to farmers and value-added agricultural businesses whose markets and operations were negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, giving preference to meat and poultry processors;
appropriate $175,000 in fiscal year 2020 for grants to farmers who have been approved for farm debt restructuring loans guaranteed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency or Rural Finance Authority loan programs to cover the loan origination fees;
appropriate $125,000 in fiscal year 2020 for grants to grocery stores and other food handlers to develop safety procedures, update and retrofit locations, purchase personal protective equipment for employees and educate the public on the need to follow safety procedures during the coronavirus pandemic;
provide an additional $60,000 to the Agriculture Department in fiscal year 2021 for farm advocate services; and
increase 2021 funding by $40,000 for additional community outreach on farms and rural mental health services including the 24-hour hotline, service availability and mental health forums.
A onetime appropriation of $100,000 in fiscal year 2021 would be for farm safety grants and outreach programs. Half the amount would be for grain storage facility safety grants and half would be for outreach which can include “creating and presenting a grain storage facility safety curriculum.”