After months of negotiations, the House and Senate passed the budget for the federal government yesterday. Attached to the government spending package were several dozen smaller bills, with the text of the legislation totaling nearly 5,600 pages.
Below are the significant items that will most affect Western Growers members:
- The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is extended through an additional $284 billion in funding. Several program changes have been made to the program, including expanding forgivable loan expenses to include PPE costs. One of the most important changes for farmers is that PPP loan expenses are now completely tax-deductible. As you may all recall, the Internal Revenue Service issued a ruling back in May stating that they were not deductible. For months, the Trump Administration has been fighting to keep that ruling in place. Finally, Congress has overruled them with the passage of this bill and now all PPP expenses are fully deductible. Full details.
- There will be a third round of COVID-19 relief payments to farmers. Congress made some important changes to the program for farmers in the produce industry. For example, under the current program, you are required to use your 2019 sales data as the basis to calculate your relief. Under the Congressional revisions, you can now use 2018 or 2019 data. Additionally, if you have received assistance through crop insurance, the noninsured crop disaster assistance program (NAP) or wildfire or hurricane disaster payments, that would also be included in the sales data. This change was made to ensure that producers who had a bad year in 2019 due to natural disasters would not have an overly low COVID-19 relief payment.
- Congress provided another $1.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assist farmers by either purchasing excess commodities or help offset COVID-19 worker safety costs. USDA has been facilitating the purchase and distribution of food through the Farmers to Families Food Box program and some version of that will now continue into next year. That program helps Americans in need while also removing excess supply off the market and helping bolster prices. USDA will also now be able to help offset costs associated with COVID-19 worker safety—eligible entities go beyond producers and include small and medium-sized processors. Once USDA sets up a mechanism for these grants and loans, this could be a great benefit for producers who are struggling to pay for increased worker safety costs related to COVID-19.
- The package includes $100 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Full details.
- Several water-related provisions were included in the bill. Most notably, the bill includes language that Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally from Arizona were advocating for that would create a revolving fund to pay to repair aging water infrastructure in the West. While the language has been authorized, no money was attached so some work is left to do.
- The package does NOT include business liability protection.